Wearing white jerseys -- just as Jesus Ramirez’s U-17 team wore in Peru for their 3-0 semifinal win over Holland in 2005 -- Luis Fernando Tena’s team earned a hard fought 3-1 victory against a solid Japan side in Tuesday's Olympic Games semifinal round.
Minutes after the close-out goal from Javier Cortés and the players’ jubilee at the center of the pitch, Tena praised his team’s mentality to finish with the win under the nebulous London afternoon. Yuki Otsu opened the match with a stunner, yet Mexico kept their composure. Tena's side controlled the remainder of the match, staying loyal to an idea, not panicking, and taking the initiative against their Japanese counterparts.
The win assures an Olympic medal and awards Mexico’s progression in improving its youth ranks. These new generations representing el tricolor are now becoming accustomed to victory. Their mentalities are getting programmed to always trust their abilities and the team's philosophy.
There are two aspects that Mexico's Olympic team has improved exceptionally. The first one has been to regulate the possession and the rhythm of the game. This Olympic Tri does not pass the ball around like Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona or Vicente del Bosque’s Spain, but it aspires to win games based on the protection of the ball. Mexico wants to win games thanks to a possession percentage higher than 50 percent; the more minutes the team has the ball, the higher the possibilities it will have to finish with the win.
The Mexico vs. Japan match proved the latter correct. By maintaining possession of the ball, and rhythm at the midfield courtesy of the imposing figure of Jorge "Chaton" Enríquez, Tena’s boys managed to create more than enough goal opportunities to reach the Olympic final.
In 2010 at New Meadowlands Stadium during a World Cup preparation game, former Mexico head coach Javier Aguirre signaled the importance of creating enough goal opportunities, while emphasizing the importance of converting the chances. This exhortation introduces the second aspect.
In the second half at Wembley Stadium, Mexico had two shots on goal, and both were effectively converted by Pumas’ Cortés and Santos’ Oribe Peralta. The quarterfinal game against Senegal also witnessed a Mexico side effective during the extra time. Two Senegal blunders, and Mexico capitalized on them both to close the game.
In his most recent article for The Guardian -- "Will London 2012 be the moment that Asian football overhauls Africa?" -- Jonathan Wilson noted what a semifinal victory for Mexico would mean: "If Mexico were to win, of course, it would be further confirmation of the promise they have shown at youth level over the past couple of years."
El Tri will now face off against Mano Menezes’s Brazil. The Brazilian side has been lifted by the dynamic duo of Oscar and Leandro Damiao, along with brief but special sparks from Neymar. Brazil has two major tests before it hosts the 2014 World Cup: the Olympic final and FIFA Confederations Cup next year.
After years of organization, Mexican football is having its international breakthrough. These London Olympics have seen a Mexico team that prides itself on playing like a group of warriors. Each player has been able to capture Tena’s message, and the football world is finally taking notice. Mexico is well on its path towards transforming that promise into a confirmation.