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Brazil fires coach of Rio Olympic gold medalists

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil’s football confederation has fired the coach who led Neymar and company to the country’s first Olympic football gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.

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Confederation spokesman Gregorio Fernandes confirmed on Monday that youth division coach Rogerio Micale was removed after Brazil failed to qualify for the next Under-20 World Cup.

In nine games in the South American U20 championship, Brazil won three, drew four, and lost two, ending in fifth position.

Micale started with Brazil U20s in May 2015, shortly before the U20 World Cup in New Zealand, where Brazil lost the final to Serbia.

After Dunga was removed as coach in June 2016, Micale took over Brazil’s Olympic team.

Micale’s contract was recently extended to the 2020 Olympics.

His successor has not been picked.

Most nerve-racking moment of Neymar’s life? The Olympic penalty

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil football star Neymar says taking the last penalty of the shootout against Germany in the final at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics was the most nervous moment of his life.

Neymar converted the kick to give Brazil its first-ever soccer Olympic gold medal, winning 5-4 on penalties after the game in August ended 1-1 after extra time.

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The Barcelona striker was back at the Maracana stadium in Rio for a charity game organized by former great Zico. Looking at the goalmouth where he scored the Olympic decider, Neymar recalled his key role in the penalty showdown.

“I am remembering that walk to it. It was the most nervous moment of my life. I couldn’t think of anything but `For the love of God, where will I kick this ball?” the 24-year old striker said Wednesday night. “Then God gave me the capacity to be calm and score that goal.”

Brazil had long sought Olympic gold as the only football title it didn’t have. Neymar carried Brazil to the final in the 2012 London Olympics, but lost to Mexico.

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Gold in Rio was seen by many fans as a rebirth of Brazilian football after the 7-1 humiliation against Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals. After the final, Brazil’s national team managed to rise from sixth to first in the South American World Cup qualifiers. Only one more win should take the team of new coach Tite to the 2018 Russia World Cup.

Neymar scored two goals for Zico’s team in Wednesday’s match which raised money for relatives of victims of the air crash last month that killed 19 players from Brazilian club Chapecoense.

Brazil got its golden Olympic moment, but at what cost?

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Remember this moment, Brazil. Nothing feels better than winning.

Remember how it felt on that balmy Saturday night in this fabled temple of soccer, the Maracana, when the Selecao held its nerve through 120 minutes and a penalty shootout to gain some small measure of revenge against Germany.

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Remember, too, how Neymar, without doubt one of the five best players in the world, won it all.

How he kissed the ball before the fifth penalty kick and how his teammate, the goalkeeper Weverton, retrieved it the moment after, then tucked it under his jersey for safekeeping, smiling widely.

“Beloved nation, the gold is ours,” Weverton said, still holding the ball. Alongside, his teammates filled out the top step of the podium and sang the national anthem along with nearly 80,000 deliriously happy fans.

“This ball is mine, it’s part of history,” Weverton added. “With all due respect to everybody who has a beautiful history and tried for a long time, God put this generation in this position to make history, and we did.”

Remember this moment.

Because it came at a cost.

This is a nation that needs another sewage plant more than another trophy, a nation that hasn’t paid its cops and firefighters and teachers for weeks.

It cost $12 billion or so this cash-strapped land doesn’t have.

[ MORE: Neymar, Brazil win first gold medal, right at home ]

It’s a legacy, all right, but cold comfort considering the way the real German national team humiliated Brazil’s best, 7-1, in the World Cup on home soil here just two years ago. It’s bragging rights, too, at least until the 2018 World Cup rolls around and the promising kids who filled out both rosters Saturday night give way to the best players both countries can muster. The question of who’s really the best will be answered soon enough.

Until then, Brazil can claim to be back on top in soccer. But everything else here is in a state of flux. The economy is teetering; the president, Dilma Rousseff, is under impeachment. The interim president, Michel Temer, is so unpopular that he’s already announced plans to skip the closing ceremony Sunday night – apparently to avoid the lusty booing that greets him at nearly every public appearance.

“This restores our self-esteem,” Brazil coach Rogerio Micale said. “We see that not all was lost, our football is still alive. There are some things that need to be fixed, but today we were able to make our people happy. I’m very happy to be able to be a part of this.”

There is no such thing in Brazil as caring too much about soccer. The game bestows pride and national identity. It carries an importance all out of proportion to any value that can be measured.

People jumped out of windows after a historic loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup inside this same stadium.

[MORE: Germany take gold in women’s soccer ]

The lingering pain from that 1950 loss bequeathed the Brazilian language a new word, “Maracanazo.” Roughly translated, it means the “great Maracana blow.” It has haunted Brazilians ever since. The great Pele once told a story about listening to the game on a radio at home and recalled it was the first time he saw his father cry.

Brazil’s resolve is about to be tested like few times in its history. The World Cup and the Olympics were magnificent theater, but the tourists are heading for the exit and the show is about to end. Left to look inward once more, Brazilians will find themselves facing the same daunting economic and political challenges.

Rousseff’s impeachment trial begins later this month. No matter who ultimately winds up in charge, he or she can do little to reverse the sharp decline in the price of oil and the other commodities that fueled Brazil’s surging economy less than a decade ago. A nation that has learned only too well the meaning of sacrifice will be asked to be patient and tighten its belt yet again.

Memories of Neymar’s golden goal will sustain his countrymen for as long the game retains the most special of places in their hearts. It won’t help repair the damaged infrastructure, clean up the pollution or put food on the table.

But for the moment, it will have to be enough.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and http://www.Twitter.com/JimLitke

Neymar provides Brazil with dramatic Olympics gold medal win

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For the first time in their Olympic history, Brazil captured an elusive title on the men’s side of the soccer tournament.

It was only fitting that their captain and the country’s savior provided the winner.

Both sides struggled to find a winner in extra time, which left penalty kicks as the difference between the two teams. Neymar sealed the game for Brazil, winning the match 1-1 (5-4 on penalty kicks) over the Germans.

With tears already running down his face as he ran up to the final attempt in the shootout, Neymar temporarily halted his emotions and blasted home the winner in the fifth round to give the Selecao the victory.

Max Mayer gave the Germans life after the halftime whistle, when he slotted a Jeremy Toljan cross into the bottom left corner.

All seemed quiet from the Brazilians during the early portion of the first half, but Neymar quickly changed the narrative for the hosts after blasting home a free kick just before the hour mark.

The Barcelona playmaker stepped up to the ball in the 27th minute, before powering the set piece beyond goalkeeper Timo Horn.

Neymar’s corner kick four minutes earlier nearly caused a major scare for Germany when the Brazilian’s set piece connected with Renato Augusto. The 28-year-old’s shot trickled just wide of goal though, keeping the scoreline level at 0-0.

The Germans nearly took the lead after just 11 minutes when Julian Brandt’s effort struck woodwork following a pass from Arsenal playmaker Serge Gnarby.

Watch Live: Brazil vs. Germany (Lineups, Live Stream)

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A day after the German women captured their first gold in Olympic history, the men look to replicate that same feat against hosts Brazil.

The Brazilians will look to avenge their devastating 2014 World Cup defeat against the Germans on Saturday (Watch live, 4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), as both sides look for their first gold medal in the competition.

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Four years ago, the Selecao fell short in London when Neymar and co. lost to Mexico in the Olympic final. Meanwhile, the Germans have never medaled in the tournament since the union between East and West Germany.

While Neymar continues to lead the charge for the Brazilians, Arsenal attacker Serge Gnarby looks to carry over his praise throughout the tournament in likely his biggest match in his young career.

LINEUPS

Brazil: Weverton, Zeca, Rodrigo Caio, Marquinhos, R.Augusto, D.Santos, Luan, G.Barbosa, Neymar, G.Jesus, Walace.

Germany: Horn, Toljan, Ginter, Suele, Klostermann, S.Bender, Brandt, L.Bender, Meyer, Gnabry, Selke