Tuesday August 7th, 2012

LONDON -- Three thoughts on Mexico's 3-1 victory over Japan that sends El Tri to the men's Olympic final for the first time in the nation's history:

Mexico keeps getting better and better. Luis Fernando Tena's team has improved game by game here, and Tuesday's come-from-behind dismantling of a good Japanese team showed a Mexico that has every chance of winning the Olympic gold medal. After giving up an early goal on a wonderstrike by Japan's Yuki Otsu, Mexico dominated possession, created numerous chances and did the necessary dirty work. Marco Fabián equalized off a corner with a hard-earned header; Oribe Peralta hustled to win the ball in Japan's half before unleashing a golazo from distance; and Javier Cortés finished off the victory with a late goal that featured relentless running and an impressive ability to stay on his feet despite high Japanese pressure. If the Mexicans can combine their skill and their effort like this again, there's no reason they can't win this tournament on Saturday.

Mexico has done this without some of its biggest names. The scariest part of Mexico's Olympic run is that this team doesn't even have stars Javier (Chicharito) Hernández of Manchester United, Carlos Vela of Real Sociedad or Jonathan Dos Santos of Barcelona. The latter two players were age-eligible for this tournament, and Hernández, 24, could have been an overage selection. Keep in mind, too, that Tottenham Hotspur forward Giovani Dos Santos, the biggest name on this team, didn't even play in the second half after apparently picking up a knock in the first half. Aside from Dos Santos, the entire Mexican Olympic team is made up of Mexico-based players, which suggests that the Liga MX is answering some of its long-standing critics by producing players who can compete and win on the world stage.

This Mexican men's team is going places. Earning a spot in the Olympic final is another achievement for a Mexican program that has won two Under-17 World Cups and reached the Under-20 World Cup semis in recent years. In other words, this is not your father's Mexico. A commitment to youth development has turned El Tri into one of the most upwardly mobile teams in the world. There is skill, fight and (finally) a true winning mentality in the latest generation of Mexican players, all of which is to say: If you're surprised when Mexico makes a deep run at World Cup 2014, you shouldn't be. After losing to Argentina in two straight Rounds of 16, Mexico is eyeing history two years from now in Brazil. First things first, though: History awaits on Saturday in the Olympic final.

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