Brazil move step nearer elusive Olympic gold
Neymar of Brazil and Marcelo celebrate the goal by Leandro Damiao while Alex Sandro looks on
MANCHESTER, England ● Brazil’s dream of winning an elusive Olympic soccer gold came a step closer when they thrashed South Korea 3-0 in the semi-finals at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
The victory sets up a title decider against Mexico at Wembley Stadium on Saturday after the Mexicans beat Japan 3-1 in the earlier last four clash.
Brazil, whose obsession with winning gold is matched by few other countries, won with second-half goals from forward Leandro Damiao, now tournament top scorer with six, after a 38th minute opener from Romulo in front of a 69,389 crowd.
Damiao said: “I’m so happy, we have made a huge effort to reach the final. We are here to win the gold medal – it was a tough match but we are a great team. We are Brazil – we are here for the gold.”
Defender Rafael, who plays for Manchester United, added: “It was an amazing feeling to be playing for Brazil on my home ground.
“We were confident, the coach was confident – and the final will be different to every other match we have played.”
The pre-tournament favourites, who have been trying to win the Olympic title for 60 years, coming closest with silver in 1984 and 1988, have now won all five games at the London Olympics scoring three goals in each with a tally of 15 to 5.
South Korea caused them problems at the start and had an early penalty claim turned down when Juan Jesus’s foot clumsily connected with Ji Dong-won’s face in the six-yard box but, apart from a few chances from Ji, they never really threatened.
Korea now face Japan in what is likely to be a lively battle for the bronze medal at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Friday (1845 GMT) while Brazil will hope to be crowned Olympic champions at last against Mexico on Saturday (1400 GMT).
The Koreans, who squeezed into the semis after beating hosts Britain on penalties, defended stubbornly until the 38th minute, showing why they had only conceded two goals all tournament.
But Korea lost the ball on the halfway line to Neymar and Brazil, who became more imperious as the game wore on, broke away with the playmaker feeding Oscar, who glided past a line of hapless defenders before finding Romulo on his right.
He planted the ball into a near-post gap with goalkeeper Lee Bum-young arriving too late to get a hand or leg to it.
Damiao capitalised on more good work by Neymar to make it 2-0 after 57 minutes and the game was settled seven minutes later when the forward took advantage of more poor Korean defending for his second and Brazil’s third goal.
Brazil, who first competed in the Olympics soccer tournament in 1952, also have two bronze medals from 1996 and 2008.
Their resolve to win gold in London was strengthened after arch-rivals Argentina failed to qualify for the finals having won the previous two Olympics tournaments.
Mano Menezes’s young side, who are expected to form the backbone of the team at the World Cup in Brazil in two years time, now have the perfect stage at Wembley – which Menezes has described as “the temple of soccer” – to end their long wait.
Mexico reached the men’s Olympic football final for the first time when they came from behind to beat a tired looking Japan 3-1 before more than 82,000 fans at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday and will face Brazil in Saturday’s showpiece.
Goals from Marco Fabian, Oribe Peralta and Javier Cortes, who had only been on the pitch two minutes when he scored, led to wild scenes of delight as Mexico clinched a place in the gold medal match back at Wembley.
Fabian summed up Mexico’s feelings, saying: “This is an unforgettable moment and we are making history. But this is not over yet and we want to go for everything. We want to win the gold now.”
The victory continues a trend started in 2005 when Mexico won the Under-17 World Cup and repeated that success last year.
With the Olympics being primarily an Under-23 competition with three overage players allowed, the future is looking bright for the country’s next generation of footballers.
Japan, who beat Mexico in a friendly just before the Olympics, started brightly and went ahead with an arrowed shot from Yuki Otsu from outside the area after 12 minutes that gave Mexico skipper and keeper Jose Corona no chance of saving.
But their hopes of emulating the Japan’s women’s team, who reached their final by beating France at Wembley on Monday, faded as Mexico gradually took control.
The equaliser came in the 31st minute when Fabian nodded in a flicked-on corner from Giovani Dos Santos from close range — the first goal Japan had conceded in five games at the tournament.
Dos Santos, usually Mexico’s key playmaker with three goals at the London Games so far, was strangely off-key for once and, after missing three good scoring chances in the first half, was replaced at the interval.
Mexico, though, maintained control and, with Jorge Einriquez commanding in the middle, looked the better team and deservedly went ahead with a sizzling shot from Peralta after 65 minutes following a defensive mistake by Takihiro Ohgihara.
Substitute Cortes then completed the scoring with an angled shot after a solo run in the third minute of added time.
Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka must now lift his players for before the bronze medal playoff at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Friday against South Korea.
“I am very disappointed and even though we scored first we allowed Mexico to profit from our mistakes. We really wanted to go to the final, but now we will have to concentrate on the other medal,” he said.