Olympic gold is just the beginning for rising Mexico
Underdog Mexico was sound defensively against Brazil's superstar team
Brazil's failure to win its first Olympic gold may cost coach Mano Menezes his job
This gold medal is a sign that Mexico is emerging as legitimate World Cup threat
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Mexico's 2-1 victory over Brazil in the Olympic men's soccer gold medal game:
This was the biggest win in Mexican soccer history. Men's Olympic soccer isn't as big as the World Cup, of course, but Mexico's first gold medal in the event is even more important than its second-round World Cup victory over Bulgaria on home soil in 1986. Facing a Brazil team with a market value of at least $300 million that desperately wanted to win its first Olympic soccer gold, Mexico (market value: $30 million) played a better game from the opening minute, scoring just 28 seconds in when Oribe Peralta hit for the first of his two goals on the day. Brazil had its chances, but Mexico was sound defensively throughout the game, whether it was center backs Hiram Mier and Diego Reyes, goalkeeper José Corona or pressurizing wide players Héctor Herrera and Javier Aquino. Aquino in particular was magnificent, using great pressure to force the Brazilian turnover that led to the first Mexican goal.
How much Olympic soccer failure can Brazil stand? Make no mistake, Brazil cared deeply about winning its first gold medal, sending to London a star-studded squad that included Neymar, Thiago Silva, Oscar, Hulk and Lucas Moura, along with senior team coach Mano Menezes. There was so much pressure, in fact, that it remains to be seen whether Menezes will keep his job after failing to win this tournament. But the fact is that Menezes made a mistake in his lineup for the final, using Alex Sandro instead of Hulk, and the coach admitted as much when he made a rare first-half substitution to bring on Hulk. Brazil's biggest problem was its back line and general defense. Aquino forced a turnover by pressuring Rafael, leading to Mexico's first goal, and Peralta was unmarked in the box on a free kick on the play that led to Mexico's second goal. Many of these players are expected to be on Brazil's World Cup 2014 squad, but if Brazil wants to win on home soil, it will have to tighten up defensively.
The sky is the limit for Mexico moving forward. One reason this was Mexico's most important win is that it heralds an even better future, perhaps, for a nation on the rise globally. In recent years, Mexico has won the Under-17 World Cup (twice), reached the semifinals of the Under-20 World Cup and won the Olympic tournament. For a nation that has only reached the World Cup quarterfinals twice (in 1970 and '86, both on home soil) and has gone out in the second round five straight times, there's an infectious optimism that Mexico is a legitimate contender to win in 2014. I'm not kidding. The breakthrough comes when you start winning trophies, and Mexico is on its way. CONCACAF has swept the Olympic soccer gold medals here, and the region is undeniably on the rise.