Two goals from Oribe Peralta secured a historic win for Mexican football as they survived a late scare to secure their first Olympic football gold courtesy of a 2-1 win over Brazil at Wembley.
The Brazilian Football Confederation had targeted a gold medal at London 2012 as a crucial necessity in their World Cup 2014 preparations and consequently the pressure was exclusively on Brazil and their manager Mano Menezes in the build-up to the game. With Brazil regarded as the overwhelming favourites to pick up their first ever Olympic football gold medal at Wembley, Mexico thrived on their tags as underdogs and their urgency as they pressed Brazil high up the pitch paid dividends within the game’s first minute. With less than 30 seconds on the clock Rafael panicked under pressure from Marco Fabian before sending a misguided pass into a cluster of green shirts, Javier Aquino was able to poke the ball towards Oribe Peralta who smashed a potent finish beyond Gabriel at his near post.
Those expecting a swift response from the Brazilians were left disappointed as Mexico looked extremely comfortable with their lead and were relatively untroubled until Hulk’s early introduction to the game in place of Alex Sandro, the Seleção finally looked set up to make inroads towards an equaliser as their play became more fluent. Yet Mexico continued to defend staunchly and only a long range effort from Hulk, which moved in the air to send Corona scrambling, seriously had the Central Americans worried.
The 2nd half continued in the same vein as the opening period as Mexico stifled any Brazilian attempts to build momentum. Instead, Fabian could have twice doubled the Mexicans’ lead, hitting the bar after Thiago Silva had clumsily struck the ball against the Mexico forward to see him through on goal, before heading narrowly over from a corner-kick with Gabriel all at sea amidst a cluster of bodies. The crucial second goal did come for Mexico when Oribe Peralta doubled his tally after powering home a header from Fabian’s in-swinging free-kick as Brazil’s static defence looked on helplessly.
Brazil appeared set to become victims of their own complacency, never managing to match Mexico for commitment and urgency throughout the game as they looked mentally under prepared for the challenge presented by a criminally under-rated Mexico team. Mexico’s defensive unit has been a revelation throughout the tournament, with their no-nonsense and powerful back four looking assured in the knowledge of Jose Corona’s reliability in goal. Furthermore in Oribe Peralta and Marco Fabian Mexico have a combination of hard-work and technical quality in attack and if the two stars of Mexico’s tournament can continue to build on their relationship they will present problems for any team at the World Cup in 2014.
As good as Mexico were, Brazil’s lack of urgency in attack was extremely disappointing when considering the talent they possess and a huge amount of hard work is required if the likes of Oscar, Neymar, Hulk and Leandro are to be moulded into an attacking outfit capable of threatening the world’s best in 2014. But despite how below par the Brazilians were they could have miraculously taken the game into extra-time. A deep ball found Hulk through on goal and when a powerful finish through Corona’s legs halved Mexico’s lead the three minutes added time became exceptionally anxious. This was especially the case when Oscar nodded over a free-header from inside the six-yard box with seconds remaining. Mexico survived however and celebrated wildly as they claimed their country’s only gold of the games so far.
Mexico’s shock triumph concluded a tournament to which there was much scepticism surrounding public interest in a competition that has been traditionally seen as a mere sideshow within the broad Olympic spectrum. But with average attendances for the men’s tournament, which is effectively an under-23 competition, at over 45,000 per game, and Great Britain’s women attracting over 70,000 spectators for their match versus Brazil at Wembley, the nation’s unquenchable appetite for the game has been exemplified. The attendances for the tournament are made all the more impressive when considering how Euro 2012 had provided a full three weeks of international football earlier in the summer. The British public were clearly not burnt out as even Team GB’s exits from both tournaments failed to see attendances drop, FIFA should take note.
The tournament has been a notable success for women’s football. When England hosted the UEFA Women’s European Championship in 2005 a combination of inexperience within the England ranks, which contributed to their group stage exit, and the complete domination of Germany at the tournament led to poor attendances (around 7,000 per match with a modest 21,000 spectators attending the final at Ewood Park), ‘too soon’ was the general consensus. The Olympic tournament has been markedly more successful as Hope Powell’s Great Britain team powered their way through the group stages with a brand of attractive attacking football, before falling victim to Canada’s expertly executed set pieces in the quarter-finals. A dramatic improvement from the hosts, along with USA, Japan and Brazil’s presence at the competition has made the women’s Olympic tournament the success for the sport that Euro 2005 was never realistically going to be. 2012’s legacy has been to illustrate how women’s football is maturing in Britain, with the correlation between higher attendances (around 25,000 on average per match with 80,000 at the final) and a better standard of football helping to provide the impetus for more youngsters to take up the sport as it continues to strengthen.
Bronze: South Korea
Player of the Tournament: Oribe Peralta (Mexico)
Player of the Tournament: Christine Sinclair (Canada)
[image credit: skysports.com]