Mexico can now add, at a minimum, a silver medal to its tally at London 2012, but there are sufficient reasons to believe that the men´s soccer team could win the country´s first gold medal.
The 3-1 semifinal victory against Japan was an exquisite performance against a very strong team and all signs suggest the team is peaking at the perfect moment in the competition.
Now for every Mexico fan´s dream final on Saturday: Brazil inside the famous Wembley stadium.
It stirs feelings of both trepidation and excitement.
Here we take a look at five reasons Mexico fans can be confident of winning gold, even though el Tri is the rank outsider on Saturday.
Pressure is off
That might sound like a strange thing to say about an Olympic final, but whatever the outcome of the game, Mexico has got that medal it came for and, in that sense, goes into Saturday´s game with little to lose and a lot to gain.
The same cannot be said of Brazil. With only a gold medal at the Olympics missing from its long list of accolades over the years, there is a lot of pressure on the free-scoring Brazilian side that could benefit the North Americans.
Mexico has shown that if Brazil´s defense is a little nervous and creaky, as it has been on occasion in the Olympics, its front players have enough quality in the final third to take advantage.
The 21-year-old probably would´ve been left at home with Chivas if David Cabrera had been fit and/or Jonathan Dos Santos had decided to participate in London 2012. The lanky midfielder was out of form for his club and hadn´t lived up to the hype after winning the third best player award at last year´s U-20 World Cup.
Now Mexico is thanking its lucky stars that “Chatón” is in London. Enriquez has been inspired and has been the individual highlight of the Olympic tournament for el Tri. His performances in the defensive midfield role have not only protected the back four, but also provided a platform for attacks.
Fellow central midfielder Hector Herrera was the starter going into the tournament, but injury problems handed Enriquez his chance, which the Chivas man has taken with both hands, leaving little doubt which one of the two will be starting the final alongside Carlos Salcido.
Enriquez will have his work cut out against Brazil, but another performance like against Japan should substantially blunt the South American outfit´s attack.
Central defensive partnership
Hiram Mier and Diego Reyes together at the heart of Mexico´s defense raised a few eyebrows in the pre-Olympic tournament in Toulon. Pundits posed the question of whether one of the three over-aged players should be a center back.
That suggestion has been hushed. The Reyes-Mier axis, with Jesús Corona a bed of confidence behind, has become one of the strong points of the team during the London Games.
Despite only being 19, Club América player Reyes has excelled under the pressure of the big games and his understanding with Mier has blossomed to the level that a future partnership at full national team level could be a mouthwatering prospect for Mexico for years to come.
Stopping Neymar, Leandro Damiao, Oscar and co. on Saturday is by far the pair´s biggest challenge yet, but it is also a chance for them to make headlines and maybe entice European clubs to get their checkbooks out.
Mexico is mentally tougher than ever
Mexico was on the ropes against Senegal in the quarterfinal having blown a two-goal lead within seven second half minutes, but the team weathered the storm, shook itself down and proceeded to an extra-time victory.
Then in the semifinal Mexico went down to a 12th minute goal against a Japanese side that hadn´t conceded in the whole tournament, but came back convincingly.
This young Mexico team´s grit will be tested to the full against Brazil, but there is a sense that with two Under-17 World Cups in the last seven years, a good performance in the U-20 World Cup last year and the Gold Cup victory that Mexico is now producing players that have the mettle required to win big international tournaments.
Factor in the losses against Japan and Spain directly before the tournament, the 0-0 draw against South Korea in its first game and there is reason to believe that Mexico has a team that rises to the big occasion.
The team is undefeated in official fixtures stretching back to last October´s Pan American Games.
Santos Laguna frontman Oribe Peralta scored the goals that won his team the Clausura 2012 title and bagged a total of 28 goals in 40 games over the course of the two tournaments.
The popular striker seemed to carry a bit of magic dust for his hometown club, causing social network users to spread the #Oribeliever hashtag that regularly became a trending topic last season in Mexico.
That didn´t carry over into the Olympics. The 28-year-old had looked out of sorts during the tournament and there were some calls in the Mexican media to replace him with Raul Jimenez. Not now though. Peralta has come up with two crucial goals, including the team´s second against Japan that will be a contender for goal of the tournament, handing the striker a huge boost ahead of the final.
Against Brazil, Mexico will need to take its chances and there really are very few players, if any, in Mexico who are as good at doing that as a fully confident Peralta.
By Tom Marshall (@MexicoWorldCup)
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