Brazil, Mexico hope chance at history outweighs shaky chemistry
Mexico's solid talent base may be enough to overcome loss of Giovani Dos Santos
Leandro Damião has been revelation fro Brazil, scoring six goals in the Olympics
Many in Europe downplayed Olympics, but Brazil and Mexico stressed importance
LONDON -- Three thoughts ahead of the Mexico-Brazil men's Olympic soccer final on Saturday (10 a.m. ET, MSNBC, Telemundo):
Mexico can win without Giovani Dos Santos, but it won't be easy. The biggest name on Mexico's Olympic team won't play in the final after picking up a right hamstring injury in the semis against Japan, and there's no way to sugarcoat the loss. Dos Santos, the son of a former Brazilian player, is the only foreign-based player on Mexico's squad, and he has shown his quality in big games before (you might recall his wondergoal against the U.S. in the 2011 Gold Cup final). But I'm not ready to count Mexico out. Luis Fernando Tena's team has proved throughout the tournament that it doesn't need stars like Javier HernŠndez, Carlos Vela or Jonathan Dos Santos to win. Marco FabiŠn is a capable replacement for GDS, and Oribe Peralta was also impressive up front in the last game. Gone are the days when an all Mexico-based team spelled doom for El Tri in international competition.
Brazil finally has a chance to win an Olympic gold medal. One of the great mysteries of soccer is how the five-time World Cup champion Brazilians have somehow never won an Olympic gold medal, despite having sent many of their superstars over the years to try. Now a team with Neymar, Thiago Silva and Leandro Dami„o has the chance to break the streak and bring home the gold. Neymar has had his moments in an up-and-down tournament, but the scoring star has been Dami„o, whose six goals have paced Brazil and provided evidence why he's starting ahead of the better-known Alexandre Pato and Hulk. The big question with Brazil is whether the quarter-billion dollars worth of talent on the field will play well enough together, or whether the shaky defense might give Mexico an opening.
This game matters to both countries. Forget what you've heard about Olympic men's soccer not mattering much. That may be the case in Europe, but it most certainly is not in Brazil (which desperately wants to win its first soccer gold medal) and Mexico (where coverage of the soccer tournament has dominated that of any other sport during the Olympics). There's a lot at stake in this game: Brazil coach Mano Menezes, who is also the senior-team coach, may not keep his job if Brazil doesn't win the gold medal. For Mexico, too, there is the chance not just to make history but to also serve notice that the Mexicans are genuine contenders to make a deep run in World Cup 2014. Toss in a historic setting for the game -- Wembley Stadium with 88,088 fans -- and you have appointment viewing if you're a soccer fan.