By Jose M. Romero / @RomeroJoseM
For Fox Deportes
Amazingly, Mexico is going to receive an Olympic men’s soccer medal for the first time in its history.
It’s not amazing because Mexico has a talented Olympic team that has come up with huge plays in five games in Great Britain this summer. That part is fact. Nor is it miraculous or completely unexpected given the quality of players coach Luis Fernando Tena is working with. This is clearly a good group with some players that have bright futures with the senior national team.
If a team doesn’t unite with arms around the shoulders of the players during the playing of the national anthem, does it mean the players aren’t on the same page? Maybe. On Tuesday, Japan did it, the Mexicans did not. No big deal, Mexico won the match 3-1 and advanced to the gold-medal game of the London Olympics at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
Mexican soccer history is full of teams with so much talent and promise expected by their country to do big things in international competition, yet so many times, El Tri’s entrants came up disappointingly short. That this Mexican U-23 side, with all of its skill, wasn’t widely expected to medal at the Olympics was no big surprise.
Which makes it a little surprising that not only will Mexico win a medal, it will be at least silver medal. And that talent and promise? It’s there, and suddenly a very good run through the 2014 World Cup in Brazil looks more and more plausible.
The stars shined on Tuesday. Gio Dos Santos played only 45 minutes, but his 30th-minute corner kick was placed well into the box, eventually making it to Marco Fabian’s head for the goal. Dos Santos was effective in his time on the pitch, even if he might not have been fully fit.
Oribe Peralta, the forward from Santos Laguna, scored the go-ahead goal. Goalkeeper Jose Corona was steady and failed to get to just one shot, that no keeper could have saved.
Fabian was electric. The main character in Mexico’s qualifying for the Olympics and its top scorer at a pre-Olympic tournament at Toulon, France, he hadn’t scored in the Olympics up until Tuesday. Yet Fabian’s play energized Mexico’s attack and he was a major headache for Japan’s defense, which had not allowed a goal in its previous four games.
When substitute Javier Cortes clinched victory with his goal in second-half extra time, it was time to celebrate in the rain.
All of the success, of course, makes Tena look very intelligent for the way he has handled his playing rotation, especially in dealing with Dos Santos, who is clearly the point man in an attack that is extremely dangerous. Dos Santos didn’t start the group phase opener against South Korea and the second match against Gabon (in which he scored twice). He played the first half Tuesday before leaving with what was reported as a muscle injury. Mexico can only hope he is cleared to play against Brazil.
Dos Santos is an interesting case. His club team, Tottenham of England, doesn’t seem to want him. Yet he has shined at the Olympics despite not being in good enough form to play major minutes.
Now comes Brazil, the clear favorite to win gold from the outset and a semifinal winner over South Korea 3-0 later Tuesday. Brazil is a team that combines speed with skill and technical ability, and far and away leads the tournament with the most goals scored, 15.
Mexico goes in with plenty of confidence. It fell behind Tuesday but took control of the match after Japan’s lone goal, so it’s reasonable to expect plenty of offense on Saturday in London.