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What to watch for when Brazil and Mexico go for gold (and goal) at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
1. The match is Saturday at 10 a.m. EST at Wembley Stadium
There will be no need for NBC to tape delay the Gold Medal Match. Brazil and Mexico kick off on a Saturday at a reasonable hour stateside. “The Venue of Legends” hosts one of the more anticipated events of the London Olympics. Wembley Stadium is the second largest stadium in Europe, with a 90,000 seating capacity.
2. These are Under-23 National Teams with three age exemptions
The Olympic rosters of Brazil and Mexico are not the same as their World Cup lineups. The Olympics are a U-23 tournament. Brazil’s age exceptions are defender-captain Thiago Silva (age 27), left-footed left back Marcelo (24) and superhero striker Hulk (26). Mexico’s age exceptions are goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona (31), defensive midfielder Carlos Salcido (32) and forward Oribe Peralta (28).
3. Neither Brazil nor Mexico has won Olympic gold in soccer
Brazil has won five World Cup titles (2002, 1994, 1970, 1962, 1958) but Selecao has failed to place any better than silver at the Olympics — losing 2–1 to the Soviet Union in 1988 and 2–0 to France in 1984. Brazil also took home bronze in 2008 and 1996; and lost the bronze to the Soviet in 1976. This is Mexico’s first Olympic medal match ever.
4. Brazil’s Neymar is the most exciting footballer at the London Olympics
The 20-year-old samba sensation is a rock star in shin guards. He may not be better than Lionel Messi, as Pele has suggested. But he is certainly the most exciting footballer in the London Olympics. Blessed with remarkable speed, deft touch and incredible creativity, Neymar has already had more than his fair share of highlights — including a give-and-go header goal and behind-the-back assist. And he might just save his best for last.
5. Mexico defeated Brazil, 2–0, at Cowboys Stadium in June
Jerry Jones’ Palace in Dallas, Cowboys Stadium (in Arlington), witnessed a preview of the Gold Medal Match on June 4. Mexico won, 2–0, in front of a partisan crowd — with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos scoring. In fairness, neither will be suited up against Brazil on Saturday. But Mexico does enter the match with the confidence of having taken down Brazil recently.
6. Mexico’s Giovani dos Santos will miss the match with injury
Mexico’s leading scorer and arguably its best player, dos Santos will be forced to sit out the Gold Medal Match due to a serious right hamstring injury. Dos Santos is the son of former Brazilian footballer Zizinho. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder would have provided yet another interesting storyline as well as a valuable offensive spark for Mexico.
7. Brazil’s Leandro Damiao leads the race for the Golden Boot
The Golden Boot is awarded to the player with the most goals at the end of the tournament. The striker — who wears the No. 9 of Ronaldo, the leading goal scorer in World Cup history — has six goals in only four matches. He is being chased by teammate Neymar (3 goals) and the Mexican duo of Giovani dos Santos (3) and Oribe Peralta (2).
8. Brazil and Mexico are the Olympics’ highest scoring teams
Brazil and Mexico are the only teams who have scored double-digit goals in the Olympics. Brazil leads the way with 15 goals for, while Mexico has put 10 balls in the back of the net. Not surprisingly, they are also the leading shot-takers of the Games of the XXX Olympiad — Brazil with 82 shots on goal, Mexico with 78. Both teams are also 1-for-1 on penalty kicks.
9. Mexico’s Jose de Jesus Corona has allowed only three goals
Corona has been the top goalkeeper in the Olympics, allowing just three goals in five matches. Only Spain’s David de Gea allowed fewer — but his two goals against came in only three matches for La Roja, who failed to score a goal of their own. A strong Mexico defensive front features Israel Jimenez, Diego Reyes, Nestor Araujo and Darvin Chavez; but Corona is minding the net brilliantly right now.
10. Brazil’s goaltending is suspect; its defense is strong
Original keeper Rafael was scheduled to start for Brazil before a right elbow injury knocked him out of the Olympics. Neto stepped up as the new starter but was replaced by 19-year-old Gabriel in net. Both have looked shaky between the posts. Luckily, whoever starts will have capable defenders Thiago Silva, Juan Jesus, Rafael da Silva and Marcelo patrolling, and the offense controlling possession. Still, if Brazil loses to Mexico, it likely will be due to lackluster goaltending.
Gold Medal Match Prediction:
Brazil 3, Mexico 2