Two teams meet on Tuesday 7 August from opposite sides of the world with each sharing the same dream – winning that precious gold medal for their country. Japan and Mexico have both impressed greatly so far during the 2012 Olympic tournament, and they know that they are just two victories away from the big prize.
Mexico arrived at the tournament with a relatively weak looking squad and low expectations. Their close rivals, Brazil and Uruguay, were expected to outperform a squad that had Giovani Dos Santos as the sole player playing outside Mexico’s Liga MX. Several of their players have never experienced the vast crowds and pressure that is heaped upon them during Olympic football, but the young and inexperienced squad has gone from strength to strength as the tournament has progressed.
An edgy 0-0 draw against fellow semi-finalists South Korea kicked off their tournament, but back to back victories followed against Gabon and Switzerland to qualify them for a meeting with a very strong looking Senegal team. The African side took Mexico to extra time, but with two goals in those 30 minutes from Hector Herrera and Dos Santos, the Central Americans progressed. Dos Santos has been superb for Mexico throughout the tournament, and Japan will need to come up with a plan to stop his creativity and trickery if they are to progress for their chance at a gold medal.
Japan have almost made qualifying for the semi-final look easy. Not only are the Asian Cup champions unbeaten so far in this tournament, they are also yet to concede a goal. Since pulling off the shock result of the tournament, an impressive 1-0 victory over pre-tournament favourites Spain, Japan have not looked back. They qualified for the semi-final with a terrific 3-0 performance against Egypt in the quarter-final. Having only managed to score two goals during the group stages, Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka will have been happy to see his men finally find their scoring touch against the north Africans. Their strength is still their defence, which has only conceded one goal in their previous 11 competitive fixtures throughout the 2011 Asian Cup and in this current tournament in London.
The two teams played each other in an Olympic warm up match only three weeks ago at the City Ground in Nottingham Forest, with Mexico running out as 2-1 victors on that occasion. Mexico will be hoping that history repeats itself as they compete in their first ever Olympic football semi-final. For Japan, they have already exceeded expectations, but a victory will beat their best ever performance in Olympic football, a bronze medal in 1968. The Mexican nation contributed to Japan earning that medal 44 years ago, and Japan will be hoping that a defeat over the same nation can be a stepping stone to an even better tournament finish this time around.
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