Mexico and Brazil will contest the gold medal final of the men’s Olympic football tournament after condemning Japan and South Korea to the bronze medal play-off respectively.
Mexico will hope to carry the momentum of their 3-1 victory over Japan into their first Olympic football final as they face a Brazil team whose lack of recent competitive fixtures has led them to target this tournament, along with next year’s Confederations’ Cup, as a crucial part of their build up to the World Cup in 2014.
The importance that the Brazilians have placed on their Olympic campaign is a sobering thought for Mexico, who will undoubtedly be ecstatic with their comeback against a Japan team who defeated tournament favourites Spain in the group stages and were tipped to reach the final of the competition after a comfortable 3-0 over Egypt in the quarter-finals.
Japan’s tags as pre-match favourites looked justified when they took the lead on 12 minutes courtesy of a scorching effort from Yuki Otsu. Otsu has been amongst the goals throughout the tournament and scored the famous winner against Spain in Japan’s first group game, this goal however may have been more memorable if it would have seen the ‘Samurai Blue’ into the final. Otsu connected ferociously with the ball after an exquisite first touch had set him up to unleash a venomous drive from the edge of the box into the top corner, Jose Corona in the Mexico goal was left with no chance.
Mexico did well to keep a foothold in the game, especially when considering how they had to endure 30 minutes of extra time in their 4-2 quarter-final defeat of Senegal, and they shown no signs of fatigue when Jorge Enriquez was sharp enough to deflect a corner-kick towards Marco Fabian, who powerfully headed home the equaliser on the half hour mark.
After a cagey opening to the 2nd half the game had another great goal. Oribe Peralta picked the pocket of Takahiro Ogihara before unleashing an unstoppable effort from 20 yards that had Sunichi Gonda diving through the air in vain. Crucially, unlike Mexico, Japan failed to recover psychologically from the impact of conceding such a wondrous goal and when Javier Cortes stroked the ball home to make it 3-1 in stoppage time, it only confirmed the inevitable: Mexico were through to the Olympic final.
The stage was then set for Brazil to sweep apart South Korea to set confirm an all Latin American Olympic final, but during the 1st half at Old Trafford the game was far from the formality many had expected and South Korea could well have taken the lead as Brazil looked nervous defensively. Sandro cleared off the line from a goal-bound Kim Hyun-sung header before Juan lunged wildly to prevent Ji Dong-won scoring from close range.
South Korea have struggled for goals throughout this competition though and after missing a number of early chances, nerves crept into their game and defensive lapses became more frequent as Brazil grown into the encounter. Lee Beom-Young saved well from Leandro and Kim Young-gwon cleared off the line from Sandro’s hooked effort. But the pressure finally told when Oscar threaded a crisp through-ball to Romulo, whose shot journeyed under Beom-Young on its way into the net.
South Korea were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Sandro brought down Bo-kyung inside the box in the early stages of the 2nd half, but the referee waved the appeals away and Brazil were 2-0 up soon afterwards. Leandro got on the end of Neymar’s cut-back to coolly stroke the ball beyond Beom-Young with South Korean heads dropping thereafter. The game transcended into the procession many had expected before kick-off when Leandro notched his sixth goal of the tournament with a cute toe-poke from inside the box, making the International striker the competition’s top scorer.
Mexico 3-1 Japan
Brazil 3-0 South Korea
Bronze Medal Fixture:
Japan vs. South Korea: Millennium Stadium, August 10th 19.45
Gold Medal Final:
Brazil vs. Mexico: Wembley Stadium, August 11th 15.00
Player of the Day: Oribe Peralta (Mexico)