Under the luminous Andalusia sun, Mexico’s Olympic team prepares for its London 2012 debut. Before the tournament kicks off, Luis Fernando Tena’s squad will play important friendlies against Great Britain, Spain, and Japan. Optimism has been profoundly instilled in the players from Héctor González Iñárritu, FEMEXFUTs director of national teams commission, former Mexico coaches like Bora Milutinovic, and Mexican Olympic torchbearers like Gerardo Torrado.
The denominated U-23 national team has encountered a series of events that include a poor Copa America performance due to unplanned vida loca events in Ecuador, a gold medal in the Pan American Games with Oribe Peralta and Jesus Corona making big statements, a first place in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers, a Toulon tournament championship with Marco Fabián in spectacular form, and two substantial "no’s" from Jonathan dos Santos and Carlos Vela, two exceptional players who opted to use the summer to progress with their personal objectives and not take part in the Olympic Games.
The last time a Mexico football representation played in the Olympics was 2004. Ricardo Antonio La Volpe coached the national team, and the squad included names such as Sinha, Omar Bravo, Israel López, Gonzalo Pineda, Aarón Galindo, Maza Rodríguez, Corona, and Alberto Medina. The three "experienced" players that joined La Volpe’s Mexico were Sinha, Bravo, and López. The team finished third in its group obtaining a win, tie, and loss, totaling 4 points.
Not making the best eight teams in Athens unsettled La Volpe’s proceso, but in 2005, Mexico finished fourth in the FIFA Confederations Cup with protagonists Medina, Sinha, and Pineda, who with his panenka penalty kick against Argentina won the admiration of the nation’s fans. Corona will be participating as goalkeeper for the national team in his second Olympic Games (in 2004, Guillermo Ochoa was the second goalkeeper, in 2012 he will follow it somewhere in France).
Tena and his players are up against one of Mexico’s biggest challenges in this new century. In 2005 Mexico won its first FIFA tournament, the U-17 World Cup. Last year, Mexico won its second U-17 World Cup and finished third place in the U-20 World Cup. These sensations suggest that the young Mexican player is aware of his abilities, sure of his composure, and no longer believes in the ya merito. The young Mexican player is now able to say to the crowd that sí se pudo.
Winning a medal will be important to the country, but it will also make Chepo de La Torre’s job easier in formulating the Mexico team that will go to Brazil. The rivals for a medal will be Brazil, Spain, Uruguay, Great Britain, and perhaps a dark horse like Senegal or Japan. There are three points that need to be analyzed closely over the next three friendlies:
• It is important for Mexico to come to the July 26th debut against South Korea in Newcastle with a strong and fluid defense. The addition of Carlos Salcido is crucial, but his position has to be defined, will he be in the defense or midfield? Considering that the defense demands a leader, Salcido could be one of the three central defenders in Tena’s line of five defenders. Hiram Mier and Diego Reyes could accompany Salcido on the defense. Ponce and Aquino will be the players that will cover the wings on both ends of the pitch. But also Salcido and Reyes could be Mexico’s holding midfielders, and players such as Darvin Chávez, Israel Jiménez, Néstor Vidrio, or Néstor Araujo could be selected to play on the defense.
• Giovani dos Santos and Marco Fabián must be in the starting eleven, and both need enough playing time during these upcoming matches in order to understand their roles on the pitch. During the Pan American Games, CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers, and Toulon tournament, Fabian’s main accomplice was Héctor Herrera, a smart and gifted player. Because Mexico plays with five defenders, Giovani will take Herrera’s spot. There is also a slight possibility that Tena could change the game plan and have these three gifted players on the field at the same time.
• Oribe Peralta, at 28, is living his best stage as a professional footballer. He is one of the experienced players in the squad, but his feelings will be identical to those of Diego Reyes or Hiram Mier. As a striker and almost sure starter, his main job will be to put the ball in the net. Considering Giovani and Fabian’s pace, Peralta will have to be smart on the first touch and also work to create space for his teammates. As Mexico’s number nine, he will have two defenders guarding him, leaving other teammates with a clear opportunity to score.
The Mexican Olympic team has all the ingredients to complete a satisfactory Olympic tournament. The players must digest every second of the experience, and if they win a medal, the road to Brazil 2014 will be smoothest the country has ever witnessed.