Mexico celebrating surprising soccer gold
By TALES AZZONI,
Updated August 12, 2012
LONDON (AP) Mexico was without one of its top stars. It was a long way from home. It lacked the rich tradition of the main contenders.
And it still won it all.
Mexico is headed home with the gold medal for men's soccer after coming to the London Games with a team few expected to win it all. It jumped on favored Brazil just 29 seconds into Saturday's final for the fastest Olympic goal in 36 years, and went on to a 2-1 victory.
While the Mexicans are celebrating their first gold, Brazil will have to wait another four years to continue its quest for the elusive medal.
But Brazil wasn't the only top contender to fail at this year's soccer tournament.
Spain wasn't even close to its second gold after failing to get past the group stage, just like Uruguay. Britain's first team since 1960 - without David Beckham - failed to live up to the expectations of the home fans and was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Mexico arrived at the Olympics with an outside shot at the title, with Brazil, Spain, Uruguay and Britain expected to fight for the gold. But the Mexicans had been playing together for a few years, and it showed during the run to the title - a championship that shows the national team has a promising future.
"It's a very important moment for Mexican football," coach Luis Fernando Tena said. "It's a great moment for us. Our youngsters have developed great mental strength and our football is improving considerably."
The gold was even more impressive considering Mexico played without Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, who was not released by Manchester United. Its other main forward, Giovani Dos Santos, missed the final with an injury.
Meanwhile, Brazil cruised through the tournament with players such as Neymar, Oscar and Leandro Damiao all performing well.
It was a relatively unknown striker who never played outside of Mexico who gave the nation one of its biggest victories in soccer. Oribe Peralta scored the early goal and added another in the 75th minute at Wembley Stadium to wrap up the championship. His first goal was the fastest at least since the 1976 Games, when FIFA began keeping record of the Olympic tournament.
Peralta was one of the three players older than 23 summoned by Tena after Hernandez was ruled out. The 28-year-old striker ended the competition with four goals and quickly helped the Mexicans forget Chicharito's absence.
"We want the people in Mexico to believe in this young generation of players," Dos Santos said. "Today we showed everyone that we are ready to win important competitions. This gold medal goes to all of those in Mexico who always believed in us. I want them to enjoy and to celebrate. For those who didn't believe in us, well, let them celebrate too."
Brazil will not be forgetting this Olympics any time soon. In its third final and with most of its top players, it looked set to finally win its first gold.
"We tried hard, but it wasn't enough," Neymar said. "Sometimes things don't go your way, it happens."
Neymar is touted as the future of Brazilian soccer and arrived as the tournament's biggest star. He played well but couldn't come up with the outstanding performance that Brazilians hoped he would in the final.
Winning the Olympics was Brazil's priority this year and served as a test for the players, who likely will be on the team which will try to give Brazil the 2014 World Cup title at home. The Summer Games moves to Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Spain's under-23 squad also had high hopes after winning the Under-21 European Championship last year. It had some of the players that helped the senior team win its second consecutive Euros a few months ago.
But it was a disastrous campaign in London.
It was eliminated in the group stage after losses to Japan and Honduras and a draw with Morocco. The Spaniards finished last in its group with only one point. As a result, Spain's soccer federation decided to let under-21 coach Luis Milla go.
Uruguay also was one of the favorites for the gold after bringing star striker Luis Suarez and other top players, but it also failed to advance past the group stage. It beat the United Arab Emirates but lost to Senegal and Britain.
The hosts played without Beckham to the disappointment of fans. Coach Stuart Pearce instead picked veteran Ryan Giggs for the team put together for the first time since the 1960 Games, but it was not enough as it lost to South Korea in a penalty shootout in the quarters.
The defeat also signaled the last appearance for now of a unified British soccer team, which only played this time because the country was hosting the games.
Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni