Two years on from the country's dreams being reduced to rubble in its last semifinal on home soil, Brazil enjoyed an occasion as comfortable as its 7-1 loss to Germany was humiliating to move within one step of ending its long wait for Olympic gold. Faced with the prospect of a tough Honduras side that had already eliminated Argentina and South Korea, Brazil removed all tension within 15 seconds. Neymar's goal, the fastest in Olympic history, shattered Honduran resistance that had been so admirable in a 1-0 quarterfinal win over Korea, and precipitated an emphatic 6-0 win that was never in doubt.
It was a performance that could hardly have been in sharper contrast to the team's struggles earlier in the tournament, when the pressure of delivering an elusive football gold medal to the game's spiritual home appeared to weigh almost unbearably on its shoulders. Since goalless draws against South Africa and Iraq, Brazil has now scored 12 goals in three matches and will go into the final on Saturday as favorites to go one better than the silver medal no Brazilian wanted four years ago at Wembley.
And it could yet be a final that offers the chance for double glory for this young Brazilian team. Germany will take on Nigeria in the second semifinal, and, while none of the members of this Brazilian Olympic team played in the country's worst ever defeat at the 2014 World Cup, the chance for some form of national catharsis is obvious.
Even if it is Nigeria, it will be a match with significant history. It was the African side that ended one of Brazil's best chances for gold when a hugely talented squad, including Ronaldo, was ousted in a semifinal thriller 20 years ago.
It remains one of soccer's most staggering statistics that Brazil, five-time World Cup winners, has yet to win Olympic gold. And even if the tournament may not be treated with the utmost importance by many other countries across the world, the numbers and volume of the crowd at the Maracana to watch both the country's women's and men's teams in semifinal action over the last two days demonstrated just how significant gold is in Brazil.
The women's side agonizing semifinal loss to Sweden on Tuesday only increased the pressure on the men to keep the dream alive. And Honduras promised to be just the sort of tough, resilient opposition that would test the host's patience and ability to deal with the weight of expectation.
Instead Brazil got the start of its dreams. Rogerio Micale's side began with a real hunger and intensity that simply overwhelmed the Central American side. Straight from the kickoff, Neymar charged to close down Johnny Palacios, capitalized on the Honduran's sluggishness to intercept his pass and find himself running through on goal. The Barcelona forward won the footrace with Luis Lopez and got the benefit of a deflection back on to him off the Honduras goalkeeper to take the ball into the net.
But elation soon turned to huge concern when Brazil's captain collapsed to the ground in agony just as he began his celebration. A heavy blow to the chest had been taken in his efforts to score the record-breaking goal and the mind briefly went back to his injury in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals that meant he could only watch as his side went down in devastating fashion to Germany days later.
This time, though, to huge cheers from the Maracana, he got back off the stretcher and onto the pitch. And with his floating position around the pitch he continued to wreak havoc as part of a front four that was simply irresistible.
It was Luan's inclusion in the starting lineup as part of that attacking quartet for Brazil's third game of the competition that changed the team's dynamic and offered the balance that has allowed it to prosper. And the Gremio man played a key role in Brazil going 2-0 to the good in the 26th minute.
Honduras' high defensive line was repeatedly exposed in the first half and was as Luan played the ball through to find a perfectly timed run from Gabriel Jesus. In sharp contrast to the 19-year-old's galling miss in his team's opening game of the competition, this time he produced a delightful first-time finish with the outside of his right foot to beat the out-rushing goalkeeper.
With 10 minutes to go before halftime, it was 3-0 and the method was again the same. This time it was Neymar who supplied the ball through for Gabriel Jesus, and the new Manchester City signing was just as lethal, composing himself before finishing emphatically into the roof of the net.
There was no letup in the second half for a Honduras side that defensively was a shadow of the side that held South Korea at bay. Six minutes after the interval, Honduras allowed a Neymar corner to fall right for Marquinhos six yards from goal. While the Paris Saint-Germain defender didn't have the cleanest first touch, he made no mistake with his second, finishing high into the net.
With 11 minutes remaining, Brazil showed it has depth off the bench, too, as substitute Felipe Anderson set up Luan for a simple finish. And there was still time for more suffering for Hondura. Luan was brought down by Palacios and Neymar stepped up to put an exclamation point on an afternoon that could not have gone any better for the host.