There is a famous cliché that reads as follows: "Jugar como nunca para perder como siempre" (Play like never before, but lose like always). Mexico’s 4-2 victory on Saturday against a strong and talented Senegal team in extra time helps to destroy this cliché that has haunted Mexico national teams in past World Cups, Olympics, and Copa Americas.
Mexico is now one win away from assuring a long coveted Olympic medal, a precious piece congratulating the hard work devoted to polishing the country's youth teams. Winning an Olympic medal will not be Mexico’s most glorious football moment, but it will be the igniter of what is to come in future international competitions.
Wembley Stadium on Saturday witnessed a Mexico side at times playing at a sublime level -- as Marco Fabián and Giovani dos Santos made first touch passes inside Senegal’s box -- but it also saw a Mexico side getting easily beaten when defending corner kicks and centers into the box.
José de Jesús Corona made more than five excellent saves in crucial moments to propel Mexico to the win. The Cruz Azul goalkeeper played one of the best matches in his 10-year professional career. His excellent form in the London Games suggests that the starting spot in Brazil 2014 is for him to lose.
On defense, Hiram Mier and Diego Reyes have managed to maintain the pressure during moments that the team seems vulnerable. Between the two, the veteran is Hiram, and his tackles, sprints, headers, and long passes have been on target for the most part.
Néstor Vidrio and Israel Jímenez have guarded Mexico’s right wing with security. Both have not been able to show much on the attacking end, especially Vidrio. Dárvin Chávez, quietly, has done a superb job guarding Mexico’s left wing. He has been able to play well with both Miguel Ponce and Marco Fabián on their side of the pitch.
Carlos Salcido and Héctor Herrera began the tournament as Mexico’s holding midfielders, with Herrera playing more freely on the attack. Herrera came back after a minor injury scare and scored one of Mexico’s four quarterfinal goals, but Salcido has been erratic with his passes and sprints. This is not the Salcido Mexico is accustomed to seeing. Salcido’s role on Tena’s team is invisible; his main role has been to maintain the concentration afloat amongst the young players, whether through a congratulation or reprimand. Salcido, at London 2012, has molded into a player-coach prototype.
Two of Mexico’s gratifying confirmations in this Olympics are Jorge "Chaton" Enríquez and Javier Aquino. Aquino has a daring and unashamed attitude to create excellent offensive options for his side. His speed is undeniable; his desire is unquestionable. With Chaton, Mexico wins the gruesome battles on the midfield. He is capable of connecting the defense with the offense in a matter of seconds. His heart and leadership are what will make him into one of Mexico’s best midfielders.
Oribe Peralta has yet to play a complete game in London 2012; a complete game like those that helped Santos win the championship last season. He needs to regain more confidence, yet his presence on the field has made Giovani and Fabián’s job easier.
Fabián, like many of his teammates, watched Mexico win its first FIFA tournament -- the U-17 -- that October night of 2005. The brain of that historic team, Giovani, has now scored three fundamental goals during the Olympics. Fabián and Giovani are two players with exceptional abilities – both are daring and unafraid to carry the weight of the team. In order for Mexico to win a medal, though, Giovani and Fabian may have to triple what they produced against Senegal.
The next opponent is the surprising Japan, a team that has yet to concede a goal. Along with Korea, both national teams are giving the Asian Football Confederation important notoriety.
On one of football’s biggest stages, Wembley Stadium, Mexico now looks to get one step closer to that elusive medal. Success on Tuesday would mean the country's first team Olympic medal since 1936, when Mexico’s basketball team won Bronze in Berlin’s Olympics. Sí se puede.