Thursday, May 19

Mexico reaches the men’s football quarter-finals: now it’s the match for the Olympic medal or the triumph for El Tri

Mexico won a must-see match at the 2021 Olympics and did so with the arrogance of a contender, beating South Africa 3-0 to close out the group stage, booking a place in the quarterfinals against South Korea on Saturday.

There is a massive caveat that accompanies the overall positive impression: the victory came against an unfortunate South African team that was poor on set pieces and poor defensively, with moments of contention and signaling among the players. The South Africans rarely came close to being as dangerous on goal as they were in the previous outing against France, a match during which they held a 3-2 lead at one point.

But South Africa had a motivated and cohesive Mexican team at the helm. Despite missing starters due to suspension (Johan Vásquez) and injury (Erick Aguirre), and also at rest his top offensive star (Diego Lainez entered as a 13-minute substitute), the Mexicans did not skip a beat and recorded an efficient and professional. performance. If El Tri were feeling any pressure in their last group game, they certainly weren’t showing it.

MORE: Men’s Olympic Soccer Group Final Ranking

Uriel Antuna replaced Lainez and played a smart game down the right wing, serving the ball that led to the first goal. The South African defense did their part in the second goal (short goalie strike and header back from a defender in his own box) and striker Henry Martin, arguably Mexico’s best player on the field, started and ended the play for him. third goal.

The only blemish was the red card to midfielder Carlos “Charly” Rodríguez (below) for denying an obvious scoring opportunity in the 66th minute, when he stumbled upon a South African attacker who slipped into goal with the score at 3-0. . He will be forced to miss out on the quarterfinals, representing a significant loss for Mexico.

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How to replace Charly?

Rodriguez is extremely valuable to the running of Mexico, including the senior team, for the way he connects the team from back to front with his passes, while also tracking to challenge and divide opposition plays. His ability to maintain possession and make good decisions under pressure would have been a great help against a team as pressing as the Koreans.

MORE: Complete schedule of the men’s Olympic knockout round

His possible replacement against South Korea, FC Juárez midfielder Joaquín Esquivel, is more defensively minded and will surely sit down as the deepest and most retained midfielder, freeing up the influential Luis Romo to push further up the field. But the key to helping the accumulation lost from Charly’s absence is Sebastian Cordova, who can’t hide in this next game. It will need to wander and get it right if Mexico is to be successful.

Meanwhile, Aguirre’s injury contingency on the left-back, with Jorge Sánchez switching flanks and handing out right-back duties to Vladimir Lorona, worked well for the second game in a row, in case Aguirre is still out on Saturday. And Jesús Angulo played well on the left back (and later on the left back) instead of the sanctioned Vasquez. Mexico has depth.

South Korea below

The Mexican side is familiar with South Korea: Seven members of the current Mexican Olympic roster were part of the senior team that beat their South Korean counterpart 3-2 in a November 2020 friendly in Austria. But there were also four South Korean Olympians who were part of that match.

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Their quarter-final showdown should be the latest in a series of close matches between these two nations over the years. Since 2000, the older men’s teams have met six times, four of those games decided by one goal and another that ended in a 0-0 draw that was on penalty kicks in the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Mexico has a slight advantage (3-2-1 record), although the Koreans won the PK Gold Cup penalty shoot-out.

South Korea finished as the leader in Group B, the weakest in the Olympics. They lost to New Zealand in their opener and then benefited from the first red cards shown to Romania and Honduras to put up a total of 10 goals beyond those teams (including three penalty kicks against Honduras). It is a team that can be beaten, but it will require an effort without errors.

Way to a medal

If Mexico can beat South Korea, it would guarantee El Tri play for a medal and could set up a delightful semifinal clash with the latest gold medal winners Brazil.

The Mexican team always manages to raise their game when they see Verde-Amarela on the other side. Mexico defeated a Brazilian team that featured Neymar, Thiago Silva and Hulk in the 2012 Olympic gold medal match. This version of Mexico’s Olympic team bears many similarities to the way its 2012 edition was built from behind. forward.

Given El Tri’s pedigree, it will definitely be considered a disappointment that his streak somehow falls short in the quarterfinals. The carrot pending of potentially playing Brazil in the semifinals should be a great motivation to make sure the Koreans are not overlooked.

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