Olympics

Brazil-Mexico Preview

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Dunga.

Romario.

Bebeto.

Ronaldo.

Ronaldinho.

All are players associated with the lore and stardom of Brazilian soccer. And all are part of a list Leandro Damiao, Neymar and the current Selecao want no part of joining.

Brazil tries to complete the task of finally winning its first men's soccer gold medal Saturday at Wembley Stadium against an underappreciated Mexico squad fully capable of dashing those dreams and adding to the torment the Selecao have endured following every prior Olympics.

A medal favorite before the 16-nation tournament began and under intense pressure from its federation, Brazil has looked every bit the contender for gold in winning all five matches to reach its third Olympic final. The Selecao have scored three goals in every match, most recently a shutout of South Korea on Tuesday in which Damiao's two second-half goals propelled them to their first gold medal match since 1988.

"We can't worry about the pressure," said Damiao, the tournament's leading scorer with six goals despite sitting out a match. "We all know how much this means to us and to everybody else in Brazil. We have to go out there and do our job and win."

The pressure, though, is there and evident as past losses resulting in silver and bronze medals haunt Brazil's Olympic timeline like unwanted ghosts. It was Dunga who fell short in 1984 in Los Angeles when Brazil lost 2-0 to France in the gold medal game, then Romario and Bebeto four years later in Seoul in a 2-1 loss to the Soviet Union.

Bebeto and Ronaldo could only manage a bronze in Atlanta in 1996, as did Ronaldinho in Beijing four years ago when the Selecao - coached by Dunga - were overrun by Lionel Messi and Argentina in the semifinals.

The gold is the only international prize missing in the vast trophy case of the five-time World Cup champions, and this Selecao squad was given a mandate of gold or bust - with Mano Menezes' job as senior national coach also possibly hanging in the balance - since most of the players on this team will likely comprise the senior squad when Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup.

"We know that so many great Brazilian players have tried to win this gold and failed," said Neymar, who has added three goals and is the side's top playmaker. "We know how difficult it is to win it, because otherwise all these great players would have won it already.

"We are here representing all generations of players who tried and were not able to win this tournament before."

While Damiao and Neymar have accounted for the bulk of Brazil's scoring, six other players have also made their way onto the scoresheet. However, Lucas is not among them, and it will be interesting to see if Menezes will play the 19-year-old striker after he reached a deal with French side PSG on Tuesday night to join the team during the 2013 winter break.

For all the talk of Brazil as the gold is tantalizingly within its reach, Mexico could be quite the worthy adversary and spoiler. El Tri have scored 10 goals - all in winning their last four matches - after opening the tournament with a scoreless draw versus South Korea in group play.

The CONCACAF champions reached their first gold medal match with a 3-1 victory over previously unscored upon Japan on Tuesday at Wembley Stadium, erasing an early deficit as Oribe Peralta's goal in the 65th minute snapped a 1-all tie.

"I have never scored a goal that went so close to the top corner," said Peralta, who assisted on Javier Cortes' injury-time goal that secured the victory. "That goal represented everything we tried to do today because I fought for the ball, I got it back and I shot with all my strength."

Coach Luis Fernando Tena will have to make one crucial change to his starting lineup, though, since forward Giovani Dos Santos - El Tri's leader with three goals - has been ruled out due to a hamstring injury suffered against Japan. Raul Jimenez would appear to be Tena's first choice to link up in attack with Peralta and Marco Fabian up front.

"It's sad, but even if he can't be there, we are going to play the match for him and the country," midfielder Miguel Ponce said of Dos Santos.

This gold medal match could be viewed as a logical progression point for the younger El Tri, who have also trended upward ahead of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. As host last year, Mexico won the U-17 World Cup and Pan Am Games gold and finished third in the 2011 Under-20 World Cup in Colombia after losing 2-0 to Brazil in the semifinals.

"You can see from the U-17's up that the mentality has changed," Tena told FIFA's official website. "We're very happy at having made sure of a silver medal already, but that doesn't mean we're going to settle for what we've got. These young Mexican players have a different mindset."

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