FOX Soccer Exclusive
Brazil aim for history against Mexico
There really should be no doubt about it: Brazil is odds-on favorite to complete its trophy case Saturday when they head to Wembley Stadium for a gold medal contest against Mexico.
The Brazilians are led by Neymar, already compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, elevated to the level of the top world's stars. They don’t stop there.
They have one of the tournament's best attackers, Leandro Damiao, who has made these Olympic Games his personal breakout show. They have Thiago Silva, already considered by some to belong on any World XI that you want to construct. They have Oscar, the midfielder headed for Chelsea who has been introducing himself to a new legion of fans these past two weeks. They've started games with Hulk, Alexandre Pato and Ganso on the bench.
You want to talk depth? Brazil has it.
Moreover, motivation isn’t an issue. Brazil has never won Olympic gold, and that is the only title which has eluded soccer’s greatest national team.
Whether that all adds up to a championship party Saturday afternoon in London depends on two things the Brazilians must work very hard to control.
First, they've got to handle the pressure of expectations. Sorry, guys, but there is no doubt that their adoring public won't take silver for an answer.
Second, they've got to get a teenage goalkeeper, Gabriel, through the biggest day of his life. Not even on the team when the Brazilians completed preparations for the Games, Gabriel has emerged as the likely starter after second choice Neto failed to impress. Brazil's Under-20 netminder, the 19-year old Gabriel was called in when first choice Rafael Cabral suffered an elbow injury a week before the Olympics kicked off. Gabriel played the semifinal against South Korea. He didn’t look all that confident.
Mexico have been the dark horses all tournament long – and they are a super story.
Coach Luis Fernando Tena has spent over a year creating a team that mirrors Brazil's. He has terrific young forwards Marco Fabian and Oribe Peralta, an emerging standout in midfielder Javier Aquino and perhaps the best goalkeeper of the Games, Jose Corona.
But Tena doesn't have his best player available Saturday. Giovani Dos Santos, injured in the semifinal win over Japan, has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, robbing Mexico of the special player they have used to break open tight games.
Dos Santos' fitness was a question mark heading into the Olympics and he did not start the first two group contests. But he was the player who made the difference in wins over Switzerland and Senegal before having to come off at halftime of the semifinal win over Japan.
Without him, Mexico may struggle to get a counter attack going. They surely will not risk playing an open contest against the multi-talented Brazilians and defense has always been the key to their emergence as a world Under-23 power.
What Tena and his staff must be thinking is that they need to keep it tight at the back, limit Neymar's opportunities to create and get enough pressure on Gabriel to make the kid start looking over his shoulder.
Mexico has already made history by reaching the final and ensuring the first soccer medal in Mexican Olympic history.
They will surely not want to settle for silver, either.
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.
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