Posted on August 10, 2012
By Michael Lewis
LONDON — With a silver medal already in it’s grasp, Mexico will play one of its most important games soccer games in its history on Saturday when it faces Brazil in the Olympic men’s gold-medal match at Wembley Stadium.
In an all-American continent final, the Brazilians and El Tri will try for their first gold medal.
As incredible as it may sound, five-time World Cup champion Brazil has never won an Olympic crown, although it has earned two silver medals and a bronze.
“We already have the silver in our hands,” Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena said, “but we are not content with this. We want to close the tournament going for the gold. We have the wherewithal to do it.
“Brazil is a wonderful team. They are favorites. Yesterday I was reading [that Las Vegas] was taking bets Brazil against Mexico in favor of Brazil in huge margins. Mexico has a strong team and we trust ourselves.”
Brazil coach Mano Menezes downplayed the fact that Brazil is the favorite.
“I don’t believe in favoritism in football,” he said. “Both teams have done a good job to get to the final and we are going to play against Mexico with the same respect that we have shown to all the other teams.”
In many soccer circles, the game is considered to be the biggest match in Mexican history. El Tri’s previous best Olympic finish was fourth place at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. The Mexicans also have never reached the World Cup semifinals.
“We need to be perfect if we want to win,” Tena said.
The Mexicans will play without their best player — forward Giovani dos Santos, who is sidelined with a muscle tear in his thigh. Dos Santos, who plays for Tottenham in the English Premier League in this city, has scored three goals (tied for third in scoring) and set up two others.
“Unfortunately, Giovani, who is a great player, will not be able to play,” Tena said. “He has played at a very high level.
“He had dreams of playing in this game. He is sad. It is painful for him, the players and the team. But we have a very strong team that can overcome adversity.”
Tena would not reveal who would be dos Santos’ replacement.
“You will find out an hour before the match,” he said. “We have thought about it and come to a decision and prepared. But I would rather put some mystery into this thing.”
There is no mystery that the players are not just playing for themselves.
“We are very happy to do this for the Mexican people,” he said. “We are trying to give pleasure and emotion and spiritual needs for those following the Mexican team. These things are so much needed by Mexicans right now.”
El Tri have won three of their last five international matches against Brazil, including a 2-0 friendly win on June 3.
“They are a great team,” Brazilian star Neymar said. “They have been together for a long time and it will be a tough game. They have great players but so do we. We have prepared well and hopefully we can show on Saturday that we are the winners.”
Like most Brazilian teams, this one has several weapons. Leandro Damiao leads all scorers in the men’s competition with six goals, but this team lives and dies by the creative ability of Neymar.
“We do worry about Neymar but we haven’t thought about personal marking, we think about zones,” Tena said. “They have huge players, not just Neymar. They have Oscar, Rafael and Marcelo.”
In contrast to Menezes’ decision not to have the Brazilians stay at the Olympic Village, Tena did not have a problem with the Mexicans calling it home for the eight past days.
“It was a good choice,” Tena said. “It has given us the possibility to stay close and spend time together. We have seven of us from the technical team in one apartment and we’ve got on pretty well. The only thing we have fought about is the bathroom.
“From what I know the team have behaved well, unless there’s something I don’t know. They have taken this very seriously.”
Photo: Carlos Salcido and his Mexican teammates will try to beat Brazil for the Olympic men’s gold medal. Andy Mead/YCJ
Categories: Mexico, North America, Olympic Qualifying
Tags: 2012 London Olympics, Giovani dos Santos, Luis Fernando Tena, Mano Menezes, Neymar