The truly Greek Olympic final: Apollo vs. Dionysus

By Paul Gardner

So the men’s Olympic final comes down to this: Apollo vs. Dionysus. Apollo, god of reason and logic (that’s the methodical Germans, you see), and Dionysus, god of emotions and instincts (and that’s the free-styling Brazilians).

So, translating Greek mythology into soccer reality, we have yet another matchup between the straight-laced efficiency of European soccer, and the artistically brilliant but less reliable South American game.

Well, that, in general terms was how things were until the 1970s, when the sport became global and neither version could any longer fail to be influenced by the other.

The Germans, very definitely, determined to introduce more skill into their game. They succeeded, cleverly, managing to retain both the physical and the tactical elements that had for so long been their staples.

The Brazilians, and the South Americans in general, have not been so successful in amalgamating Apollo with their Dionysus. Applying doses of European discipline has tended to squeeze the Dionysian brio out of the Latin game.

Of late, the Brazilians have looked a lost team, neither Apollonian nor Dionysian, or if you prefer, neither fish nor fowl. The most recent confrontation of the styles came during the 2014 World Cup, and proved a total disaster for Dionysus and Brazil.

Germany 7 Brazil 1 -- in Brazil! -- could leave no doubts. A comprehensive victory for Apollo. Or, surely more likely, a crushing victory for this German team against this Brazilian team. Maybe that was it, just that, but the wider implications were hard to ignore.

After all, a 7-1 scoreline doesn’t leave much room for excuses. Brazil looked jaded and chaotic (another adjective sometimes applied to Dyonisian doings). Germany looked fresh, of course superbly organized, and with plenty of good soccer.

You could say there was an element of luck to the German win. In the first half, their strike-rate was phenomenal -- it seemed like every shot resulted in a goal. That is rare indeed, but how is it luck when that is what the Germans were trying to do?

Had the Germans put an end to the Beautiful Game and replaced it with a less flamboyant but more practical style? Those -- I being among them -- who were muttering “Perish the thought!”, did not have long to wait for hope to resurface. Against Argentina in the final a few days later, the Germans were simply stolid and boring. The Argentines were not much better. A truly and heavily Apollonian game that needed a moment of Dionysian beauty to settle it -- Mario Goetze’s goal that won it for Germany.

Apart from that goal, the final was a perfect showcase for the unavoidable platitudes of the Apollonian game. It also served as a clear demonstration of why soccer needs the dash and the dazzle of the Dionysian Brazilians.

Now, on Saturday, we’re set for another showdown, another Brazil vs. Germany contest, in the Olympic final. Yes, I would prefer a win for the Brazilians, because they represent the smiling, skillful side of soccer. Not that the Germans give us the dark side, no, not at all. But they have a habit of making the sport look too mechanical, a sport without glitter.

Is there a single player on the German Olympic team who stands out, who is memorable? In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a top team in which all the players look so alike. Same height, same build, same athleticism and, of course, same style.

With the Brazilians you are quickly aware of different players doing different things. Player personality is on display, with the mercurial Neymar setting the tone.

Brazil is under pressure. They will naturally be looking for revenge and redemption, a frame of mind that may well upset them more than the Germans. That the Brazilians have enough skill to win the game is clear. They also appear to be good at something they have been accused of not doing well in the past: defending. In five games, they have yet to give up a goal. The Germans, for their part, carry the confidence of a style that has been sweeping all before it. A confidence that inspires smoothness, calmness, steadiness.

That 7-1 scoreline is going to weigh heavily on the Brazilian players. Erasing that memory and giving Brazil its first-ever Olympic title must be the aim for Neymar’s team.

But there is also this broader matter of Apollo vs. Dionysus. Neither team will be paying much attention to that, and no doubt that’s right. The Olympic final is about winning the Olympic title. Period. Anyway, the struggle of the styles is unlikely ever to be ever conclusively won. German dominance, if that’s what we have now, is not a good thing. Steady it may be, but it leaves too much out of the game. Brazilian dominance, of course, depends heavily on the brilliance of its players, a value that lacks steadiness, that fluctuates from generation to generation, even from game to game. When it works you get the spectacular Brazil of 1970 and you walk way with the World Cup. When it doesn’t, you get the chaotic Brazil of 2014 and you get beaten 7-1.

This Olympic final, then, is not so much about Germany. We know which Germany will turn up. The steady, relentless, minimal-error Germany -- but also a Germany with plenty of skill. What we don’t know is which Brazil we will get, the chaotic or the brilliant.

For the sake of the sport itself, it is to be hoped that the Brazilians will be brilliant.

17 comments about "The truly Greek Olympic final: Apollo vs. Dionysus ".
  1. Joe Linzner, August 18, 2016 at 9:04 p.m.

    personally, I find the Brazilian game beautiful which I would also ascribe to the Grman game. The difference I see, is flamboyance constructive to a game or is it simply a personal thing. I will say that Neymar's constant flopping is a distraction and in general Brazil plays like china dolls. Do not get close or I will drop like I;ve been pole-axed. It is a distraction to their abilities. It cheapens the game. I have no favorites as to the result. My feeling is: may the better team win...

  2. Richard Brown, August 18, 2016 at 10:22 p.m.

    The Germans don't go down unless you really knock them off their feet.

    Plus they can do a lot of different things. Plus certain guys can score. Personally I prefer the German game.

  3. Kent James, August 18, 2016 at 10:52 p.m.

    Brazilian artistry v. German efficiency. PG does dwell on the subject, but it is a great divide, and the question I have is are they mutually exclusive, or can you have both? Creativity on offense and efficiency on defense? An unaddressed side issue is teamwork v. individualism; can people who are not individually brilliant work together to overcome those who are? Dribbling brilliance (often individual) v. passing brilliance (where the technical demands are more modest, but people have to work together flawlessly to be creative as a team). Ain't it a beautiful game?

  4. Ric Fonseca, August 18, 2016 at 11:12 p.m.


  5. Richard Brown, August 19, 2016 at 5:38 a.m.

    Kent it is true a lot of team work involved with the German game. But they have finishers on their team. You can have great coaching on a team, but unless you have 3 or 4 guys who can finish a chance or a half chance your not going to do well.

    They might get more chances to finish attack on the German team then the Brazilian team.

    Would you say the Nigerian game is their speed and their dribbling I would. It did not work against the Germans.

  6. ROBERT BOND, August 19, 2016 at 7:51 a.m.

    "mechanical"?-then the next line is to the point-consistent......few super stars, teamwork, discipline, everyone on the same page-guess what, guys, this is something every side can do! DFB lose a lot of knock-outs because we are in more than anyone else! we beat 2 Hispanic teams en route to the vierte Sterne without any, it's not about Kultur.......year, in, year out, you don't want to see us in your bracket..

  7. Kris Spyrka, August 19, 2016 at 11:25 a.m.

    Way too philosophical! This is not a World Cup Final either. If anyone is weighting this as such, then they live out in Lala Land, which is probably where most Brazilian fans live anyway.

    The fact of the matter is, these are pros, but not the best pros. There is a reason the starters in this game typically 'warm the pine' back home on their respective club teams (exception Neymar). For Germany, these players represent the U21 graduating class, and now they are part of U23 finishing school. Fortunately for them, they are under the tutelage of none other than Horst Hrubesch, one of DFB's most successful youth development coaches (not to mention his illustrious playing career). If you are talking about a German edge in this game, then it is the coach.

    Brazil in 2014 did not get beat so much on style of play, rather, they got beat, because expectations exceeded reality and preparation. They simply did not 'show up'. As the Germans were crushing it, Phiipp Lahm was commented as saying, "that the Elf were in as much disbelief as their Brazilian counterparts." As a player, you know when the other side is "gone", "vacant", and it's going to be a bad day for them. Jogi Loew, "you win tournaments game by game." The Brazilians waltzed into the tournament, since as host there is no qualification, as a team thinking the cup was already in the bag. They almost botched the opener against Croatia, had Neymar not gone into action.

    Tomorrow you will see a German team of young, green guns, who were assembled by Horst Hrubesch as leftovers, that their clubs allowed to play in a diminutive tournament. Horst told the DFB to give him the best, after all it's the Olympics right? He attempted to exact a policy of getting a 2 player mandatory minimum out of each of the clubs he wanted players from. In the end, what he received, were the players the clubs were willing to let go, because it posed no financial liability to their upcoming league seasons. Case in point, Serge Gnabry, Germany's high scoring 9, plays for Arsenal (in midfeild), but you've never seen him start as such.

    Hrubesch is a humble and gracious man, who is already satisfied to have Silver, his dreams of making an Olypmics already fulfilled. He is a player's coach who loves his team, "meine Jungs" (my boys). He teared up after the win against Nigeria, a great coaching moment, a very personal achievement for him. So tomorrow, if this young inexperienced Mannschaft perceivers, then the Brazilians will once again have to ask themselves, what is wrong with our game, our system, our coaches, our players,our federation, our country?

    All the pressure is on you Brazil! Not your opponent.

  8. Fact Check replied, August 19, 2016 at 12:42 p.m.

    Nice story, if only it were true Mr. Trump. ~ Five of Germany's 10 starting outfield players in the semifinals against Nigera were regular starters for their clubs in the Bundesliga last season (Lars and Sven Bender, Ginter, Brandt, Meyer). All five of them play for one of Germany's biggest clubs, and all five have played for Germany's senior national team. (If we include Nils Petersen off the bench that's six regular BL starters.)~ Sorry for the interruption, please feel free to resume blabbering about delusional Brazilians, my delusional friend.

  9. Kris Spyrka, August 19, 2016 at 1:23 p.m.

    Fact check, do you actually read? I said, 'these are pros, but not the best pros.' And yes, while 5 of 10 start, wow 50%, they are by no means the 'creme' of German soccer. Perhaps the future, but not the top team. Red Bull Leipzig will sooner let someone go to the Olympics than an FCB. If you want to go on with your pseudo fact checking, try Kicker Magazin or Der Spiegel under the rubric Bundesliga. As for "Mr. Trump"comment, I voted for the Bern. Because this countries soccer is as screwed up as it's politics. How did the USMNT spend their summer break, dreaming of playing in the MLS?

  10. Fact Check replied, August 19, 2016 at 1:31 p.m.

    Do you actually read what you write? ~ "There is a reason the starters in this game typically 'warm the pine' back home on their respective club teams"

  11. stewart hayes, August 19, 2016 at 2:17 p.m.

    The game has changed a lot since 1970. This German team will have their way with the Brazilians. They are not used to playing at the pace the Germans will force on them. Brazil in time will tire and retaliate and flop. I predict a 3 goal margin.

  12. Richard Brown, August 19, 2016 at 3:55 p.m.

    I spent a lot of time in Germany. I have a daughter and Grandson there and an apartment their, and I would not make that bold of a prediction.

    I do feel Germany will win the game, but by three goals?

    I just hope it does not go to pks.

  13. stewart hayes replied, August 19, 2016 at 10:42 p.m.

    You're probably right. It's more wishful thinking on my part. Brazil does seem to have a decent defense. After the 1984 elbowing of Tab Ramos and the stiff arming by Branco of the Dutch prior to his take down and free kick goal I lost all my respect for the Brazilians I don't care how talented they are.

  14. Richard Brown, August 20, 2016 at 8:52 p.m.

    Well it went to pks. The Brazilian keeper played them better then the German keeper.

    How is this for tactics Germany was better in the air then the Brazilians so they played the ball in the air. But they did that way too much.

  15. Joe Linzner, August 20, 2016 at 9:23 p.m.

    Germany set up many more chances, hit the posts thrice had more shots on goal..... Neymar is a showboat the attempted flip over the back that was taken away from him near the line was a prime example of jogo bonito BS.

  16. stewart hayes, August 21, 2016 at 9:50 a.m.

    Yes, Joe the stats slightly favor Germany but Brazil lifted the work rate significantly, pushed harder for goals and pressed more energetically. Except for a few flops Brazil was focused and relied less on gamesmanship. The ref did a decent job but the first German two cautions were not deserved. Especially the first where the German forward Selke was merely backing up to head the ball and the Brazilian defender obstructed his path to the ball. Paul has to be given partial credit on this one in that Brazil rose to the occasion and obviously has the talent but brilliant they were not. For the most part their attempts on goal during the run of play can be summed up by Felipe Anderson's stubbing his toe on his 1v1. The game did not resolve the Apollo vs. Dionysus question. The jury is still out on that question. This time at least I'd say the home field advantage proved to be the difference.

  17. ROBERT BOND replied, August 22, 2016 at 10:19 a.m.

    they have their best player and win by one PK....not one DFB 1st teamer......tho' why Pedersen took the last one i can't fathom, why not Sven?.....look vorwarts to seeing Selke, Gnabry, & Suele in Hamburg in October...Germany reloads.....i think that GK guess jumping ist veruekt..

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