Solid Gold

Success in team sports can be attributed to many things. One of the most redeeming ways in which teams win is when they find a way to come together and play as a true team. If a group of individuals can come together as a collective unit to execute a single plan of execution, something beautiful can transpire. Saturday’s gold medal match was a great display of two teams on the opposite end of this spectrum.  Mexico played a great game that exemplified team play and hard work, Brazil ... not so much.

Mexico captured their first Olympic football medal by defeating Brazil 2-1 on Saturday. The gold medal is a huge win for the country and a national team that is undoubtedly on the rise. The tournament was one of collective effort for Mexico, and this final match typified this perfectly. For as great as so many of Mexico’s players were it would be impossible to accurately name a man of the match. Oribe Peralta, obviously scored the only two goals for Mexico, but with the defensive effort the team put forth he could not be considered the stand-out player. Jesus Corona was again solid in goal, but was not asked to do more than usual during the match. Hiram Mier and Diego Reyes had incredible games in defense, but it would be a mistake not to mention the defensive work of the midfield. Javier Aquino, ‘Chaton’ Enriquez, and Hector Herrera all played stellar defensive matches. The pressure the midfield was able to put on the ball and on every Brazilian pass, no matter where on the pitch it was taking place, continually stifled build-ups before they came. These three jumped into passing lanes and disrupted play throughout the match. In each of their last three matches, Mexico scored after stealing the ball from defenders in vulnerable positions.  Yet, they couldn’t play this way without the work of the four in the back and Carlos Salcido being consistent presences against some of the most dangerous goal scorers in the world. The team accomplished the goal of keeping Brazil in check, and thus the team accomplished a first for Mexico.  

Brazil was unable to claim their first Olympic gold. The Brazilian squad features some of the greatest players in the world who also star for some of the biggest clubs. Neymar with his wacky hair and crazy ball skills continue to get all of the attention, but he is hardly the entirety of the team. The attacking presence of Leandro Damiao, Hulk, and Oscar should be able to score on anyone. Their previous matches certainly proved this to be the case. Brazil scored three goals in every previous match in the tournament. Brazil had their chances to score in this match, but they came much more infrequently than they were used to. Mexico kept them from maintaining sustained possession and limited the majority of their shots to low percentage chances. Brazilian players were once again frustrated by their Mexican opponents. While they didn't start spitting this time, they did fight among themselves. It’s not exactly a good sign when the official needs to separate two teammates from one another.

It would be a discredit to the Mexican squad to simplify this as a win of team over talent. This Mexican squad was stacked with quality. Although filled with predominantly Liga MX players several Mexican players have received interest from top European clubs. There was a ton of talent on this Mexican squad, but individual greatness never overstepped the team game. Marco Fabian and Carlos Salcido, two of the most celebrated players on the team, were both playing out of their natural position for the majority of the tournament. They might not have been at their peak, but they both played relentlessly to work toward the team goal.

Much will be made of the meaning of this victory for Mexico. With their recent youth victories and this Olympic triumph, it is justified. The future is undoubtedly bright for El Tri. However, the reasons for the success for Mexico must not be forgotten in the future. More and more of these players will be viewed as bigger stars and champions with this gold medal. The talent base for the Mexican national team continues to get stronger, but to achieve future greatness they will need to play this way again. Mexico will need to continue to play as a true team.