Mexico's Oribe Peralta celebrates the second goal with teammate Hector Herrera (6) during the men's soccer final against Brazil at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jon Super)AP2012
Mexico's Oribe Peralta celebrates the second goal with teammate Hector Herrera (6) during the men's soccer final against Brazil at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
LONDON – Timing, as they say, is everything.
At Mexico's international friendly against its archrival the United States at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on Wednesday, the Mexican Football Federation will pay homage to its Olympic soccer team that that brought home some Olympic gold.
Unless you have been under a rock or in hiding in a cave, you already know that El Tri made history by earning its first gold medal in soccer, defeating favorites Brazil, 2-1, at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
Thanks to the rivalry between the two North American teams, Wednesday's celebration could be more like rubbing the Americans' noses in it. After all, the U.S. failed to qualify for the Summer Games, being eliminated in the group stages by El Salvador in embarrassing fashion -- on its own soil (Nashville, Tenn.) on a stoppage-time goal in March.
Like it or not, the Americans will be reminded how far the entire Mexican soccer program -- at all levels -- has soared.
The Americans? Well, the same old, old, until they prove otherwise.
After a more than a decade of climbing to the top of CONCACAF, the U.S. has slipped in the two couple of years and Mexico has surged ahead -- far, far ahead.
On Saturday, the Mexicans sent a message to the rest of the soccer world that they have become a world power. Skeptics might claim one match or even tournament won't make or break a country's reputation.
But El Tri has done it at every level possible.
I've already written about this being the golden age of Mexican soccer, and the gold medal, quite appropriately, just punctuates that reasoning.
In an incredible 413 days over the past 14 months, the Mexicans have won just about everything in sight, or finished very high in the very least.
Their spoils have included the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, which they have won twice in a row, a third-place finish in the U-20 World Cup, a Pan-American title by the U-23 (essentially the Olympic team), two consecutive CONCACAF Gold Cup crowns, including a 4-2 triumph over the U.S. on American soil, and now Olympic gold against Brazil.
One win might be considered a coincidence, but so many shows how far Mexico soccer has come and how far it could go over the next five or 10 years.
There's no one reason.
There's talent, which you need and the likes of Javier Hernandez (Chicharito), Giovani dos Santos, Andres Guardado and company, make the National Team so lethal.
There is plenty of that at the U-23 level. On Saturday, the Olympic team took advantage of a Brazil defensive blunder and with the game only 29 seconds old, Mexico struck behind Oribe Peralta for the fastest goal in Olympic history.
That stunning, early goal forced the Brazilians out of their game plan as they chased the game for most of the remaining 89:31.
Another part is mental. In the past, the Mexicans probably would have wilted under Brazil's second-half pressure. Instead, they stood their ground and countered effectively to allow Peralta to score his second goal of the match in the 75th minute to give them some much needed breathing room before Hulk tallied for the South Americans three minutes into stoppage time.
The defense held tough. Players were positioned well and did not make many mistakes, such as giving the ball away in bad situations. And goalkeeper Jose Corona, one of three over-23 players on the team -- defender Carlos Salcido and Peralta were the others -- did everything he had to do to hold Brazil at bay with excellent decision-making and shot-blocking.
The Mexicans also overcame adversity, thriving even without their top and most dangerous Olympic performer, Giovani dos Santos (thigh muscle injury).
"Our young players left behind the old complexes," Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena said. "They look forward to the future like conquistadors."
Then there's preparation and Mexico has done its homework, selecting the best talent in the land and using and training them wisely. If coached properly, wins will occur, and they have.
"We have better players, more experienced players, a better selection of young players," Tena said. "Our coaches are better trained and paid, which is important."
After the semifinal stage of World Cup qualifying, Mexico next great challenge will be the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil next June and then the ultimate test in World Cup in the same country in 2014.
But that's two years away, considered light years to wait to say that Mexico has arrived.
El Tri is there already. They proved it in so many ways on Saturday.
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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