Newcastle, England – Is there a championship game appearance or a gold medal in Mexico's future?
Given the route they have before them to the Olympic men's final at Wembley Stadium on Aug. 11, El Tri certainly has a relatively easier route than the one that Honduran has to take.
If the Mexicans defeat Senegal in Saturday's quarterfinal at Wembley, they will take on the winner of the Egypt-Japan match in the semifinals next week.
In contrast, the Hondurans face Brazil, which is considered the top favorites to bring home the gold, in another quarterfinal at St. James' Park here.
"You can't take anything for granted," Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena said in a press conference on Friday. "Just because we don't face historic teams like Brazil, it doesn't make it easier. We will face tough teams who are doing well and we will have to bring our 'A' game to get through."
Senegal, which made its Olympic debut, has been one of the surprise teams of the tournament. Not many observers gave the African side a chance to get out of Group A, which included host Great Britain and a highly touted Uruguay, in one piece.
The Mexicans defeated Senegal, 1-0, in an international friendly at Soldier Field in Chicago in March.
"It is a completely different team," Tena said. "They have changed tactics a bit and their players have grown as professionals. They are aggressive and physical. We need to keep hold of the ball and maintain possession. We need to keep the same philosophy.
"Senegal is a very strong squad with fast players and it will be a very difficult. It is a great opportunity to play here. I have managed teams in finals in Mexican football but it is great for the players to showcase their talents here."
If the Mexicans do manage to qualify for the final, they will play three games in London, which would be a rarity for their star striker, Giovani dos Santos, who hardly plays for his London-based English Premier League club, Tottenham.
Dos Santos has created and scored key goals for Mexico. Tena hinted he would like to see dos Santos play regularly for his club.
"He is very important to the team and we all know what he can bring to the squad," Tena said. "It would be good for his career if he could show what he can do more often [at club level]."
Playing the Aug. 7 semifinals and the Aug. 11 final at Wembley certainly would make life a lot easier than traveling around from city to city, which every soccer team has been forced to do during the competition.
"Yes of course it is better to stay here," Tena said. "It is extraordinary to stay here for all the games and at the same time it is good to enjoy the environment in the Village."
Ah yes, the Olympic Village.
The last time anyone with a soccer background spoke about the Olympic Village was Hope Solo, prior to the tournament to ESPN The Magazine, in which she talked about sex at the Olympic Village at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
"We spoke about it and reminded them of their responsibilities," Tena said. "We heard what the USA goalkeeper said about what goes on in the Village. It is good to remind the players of the focus they need on winning a medal."
The Hondurans also have their sights on a medal, although they face an uphill battle against gold-medal favorites Brazil.
Coach Luis Suarez, however, sees the confrontation as an opportunity not as a task. Los Catrachos are buoyed by the fact they upset another gold-medal favorite, Spain, 1-0, in the group stages last week.
"I'd like to look at the coming game as an opportunity to enjoy rather than something to take hardship from. What we’ve got to do is manage the situation well," he said. "Brazil is a superb team and they know how to play, but we certainly know how to play as well. I don't want to look at this as a problem that doesn't have a solution, but rather as an opportunity and a challenge that we can overcome.
"To get here we played extremely well, we had to knock out Spain and we showed our strength in the other matches, so we deserve respect from Brazil."
Suarez said that his "players want something from this match," he said. "They want to go beyond the quarterfinal phase."
"On the field we always see our opposition as equals and although some people would say Brazil is the favorites, we are here to play and to play well."
The Hondurans are far from satisfied from just surviving the opening round. They have some of their own Olympic dreams as well.
"We want to go one step further and we always use a phrase before every match and that is that 'we must win after the match,' " Suarez said. "So we go on to the pitch believing we can win and if Brazil beat us on Saturday, it will be because they have been much, much better than we have. However, we will never doubt ourselves and never consider that we've lost the game before it's even started."
Michael Lewis, who has written about soccer for four decades, is the only journalist who has covered every MLS Cup. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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