The excitement had been almost palpable outside the stadium which was home to the Games back in 1948, the last London staging. The colours of the fans were predominantly green and gold. It might have been an anti-Glazer protest. But this was nothing like as locally tribal, this was Wembley as a world stage.
Any team which could afford to leave Hulk and Alexandre Pato on the substitutes’ bench had to possess not only super self-confidence but talent in abundance. Coach Mano Menezes certainly hoped so; his prospects of managing Brazil as hosts at ‘their’ World Cup in 2014 depended on going where no Brazilian manager had gone before.
The dynamic of the match was fired after less than half a minute. Rafael and Romulo were much too casual on the right side of the Brazilian defence and Oribe Peralta took decisive advantage. He seized possession greedily, strode forward and slid a low right-foot shot just inside keeper Gabriel’s right-hand post.
Two technically-skilled teams produced some surprising scrappy play but that was fine for the Mexicans. Their entire aim was to prevent Brazil developing the flowing football which would drag their defenders out of position and create openings on which Neymar and Leandro Damiao could capitalise.
An Olympic record crowd of 86,162 – including presidents Jacques Rogge of the IOC and Sepp Blatter of FIFA – glimpsed a hint of that danger in the 19th minute when Mexico allowed Damiao to turn on the ball and jab in a close-range shot for which Mexico’s excellent goalkeeper-captain Jose Corona was perfectly positioned to save.
Mexico had beaten Brazil in an Olympic warm-up friendly and their approach was reminiscent of the way in which Portugal took on Spain at Euro 2012. Mexico now, as with Portugal then, were confident that could match their favoured rivals technically; the test would be a physical one, the longer the game ran on.
Brazil were not unaccustomed to that scenario. Twice they had won silver at the Olympics and twice bronze in the past; at these Olympic finals they had trailed Belarus 1-0 in their group before winning 3-1 and had then trailed Honduras 1-0 and 2-1 before winning 3-2 in the quarter-finals.
Menezes reacted by bringing on Hulk to attack out of midfield in place of the more conservative Alex Sandro. The Porto man very nearly equalised within minutes of his arrival. He thundered in a snap-shot from 30 yards and keeper Corona, surprised, dived late to his left to push the effort away.
Minutes later Marcelo arrowed into the penalty box after Damiao held up the ball but his shot crashed into the side net. Little had been seen of Neymar but moments before half-time he wriggled free of his minders and snapped a low shot inches wide. It was an ominous signal of what the Mexicans might expect after the break.
Brazil maintained the pressure through the second half. Corona flattened Neymar in punching clear then Neymar, perhaps still feeling the effects, skied a shot over when clear and from a decent range in front of goal.
Of course, the more desperate Brazil came – the replacement of anchor man Sandro with striker Alexandre Pato illustrated it – so the Mexicans grew more dangerous on the occasional counter. A mistake by Thiago Silva gave Fabian a first chance which Gabriel parried and then Fabian hit the bar with an instant-reaction overhead effort.
Minutes later Fabian was inches over the bar with a header from a right-wing corner. Brazil failed to heed the warning. Marcelo have away a free kick needlessly in the 75th minute and Peralta, unmarked, headed low past the exposed Gabriel’s left hand.
Hulk pulled one back at the start of added time but it was too little just too late.
Some 51 years ago the full Mexican national team had been thrashed 8-0 by England at Wembley: so destiny had come full circle.
Brazil: 1 Gabriel – 2 Rafael (7 Lucas 85), 3 Thiago Silva, 4 Juan, 6 Marcelo – 8 Romulo, 5 Sandro (17 Alexandre Pato 70), 15 Alex Sandro (12 Hulk 31), – 10 Oscar – 11 Neymar, 9 Leandro Damiao.
Subs: 13 Bruno Uvini, 14 Danilo, 16 Ganso, 18 Neto.
Mexico: 1 Corona – 2 Israel Jimenez (15 Vidrio 81), 4 Mier, 13 Reyes, 5 Chavez – 3 Salcido – 6 Herrera, 14 Enriquez, 11 Aquino (16 Ponce 56), – 8 Fabian, 9 Peralta (12 Raul Jimenez 85).
Subs: 7 Cortes, 10 Giovani dos Santos, 17 Araujo, 18 Rodriguez.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (England).
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