“We can beat anyone!” was the battle cry of Mexico’s Oribe Peralta on the eve of meeting Brazil in the final of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012, and the forward was true to his word.
What is more, Peralta was El Tri’s hero at Wembley, beating Seleção goalkeeper Gabriel on two occasions to help secure a golden crown for a promising generation of Mexican players.
Not that he sought to claim all the limelight for himself after the final whistle. “It was our dream to win the gold medal,” said the man of the hour. “My two goals were the result of great work from my team-mates. I’m not out there by myself. If it was tennis it’d all depend on me, but in football everyone plays their part.”
Clearly, the fact that Mexico opened the scoring after just 29 seconds played a significant role in paving the way to victory in the Olympic final, but Peralta had other insights to give on his side’s success.
“We knew that the Brazilian players lose their heads really quickly when you keep the ball away from them,” said the Santos Laguna striker. “That’s what we managed to do and, building from that basis, we were able to keep our shape and calmly play our football. Our objective was to win the gold medal and it’s a genuine reward for all the hard work that’s been put in over recent years.”
Peralta’s second of the game, which would prove the clincher in the 2-1 win, was also followed by quite a curious celebration routine. “We copied what Giovani dos Santos does when he scores a goal,” chipped in midfielder Jorge Enriquez, whose composed, hard-working and inspirational display in the centre of the park was vital in nullifying Brazil’s creative threat and disrupting their fluidity. “We dedicated the goal to him [Giovani] because he was really upset to be missing out on such a big match [through injury].”
Adding extra sweetness to this success for Enriquez was the fact he was part of the Mexican side knocked out in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 by Brazil.
“Football often throws up chances to get revenge,” he said with a cheeky smile. “That defeat was very painful so, when we remember that, it makes this victory taste that much better. Winning this medal is simply incredible. It’s so exciting, I can’t put it into words.”
Togetherness shines through
“I think the key in all our games has been working as a team, sticking together and always focusing on playing for your team-mates,” continued the Guadalajara player who, along with his colleagues, made a point of saluting El Tri’s coaching staff during the gold medal presentation. “There are only 18 medals awarded, but all the coaching team we have behind us deserve them as well.”
Fittingly, the final word went to head coach Luis Fernando Tena: “We’ve managed to change the mentality of Mexican footballers,” said the supremo. “We’ve been able to look every opponent in the eye and play without fear.
“We’ve learnt to always show Mexico in the best possible light, as well as believing we can win. And that’s what happened. There’s been an attitude change in Mexican football. Today we’ve set the bar very high for the next generations. The level of expectation is going to get higher and higher.”
Brazil coach Mano Menezes insists Rafael da Silva does not deserve to be made the scapegoat for his side’s 2-1 defeat against Mexico.
Rafael was booed by Brazilian fans at Wembley after his blunder led to Mexico striker Oribe Peralta’s opening goal after just 30 seconds.
The Manchester United right-back dwelt on the ball too long and then played a poor pass that was intercepted in the build-up to Peralta’s strike, and Rafael compounded a miserable performance by arguing with team-mate Juan following another mistake in the closing stages.
But Menezes is adamant the 22-year-old’s error was not the only reason for Brazil’s defeat and he claimed the whole team should shoulder the blame for failing to respond to that early setback.
“We have that national culture [of finding a scapegoat] when things don’t go well and you are not going to change it overnight,” Menezes said.
“Individual mistakes were made and the major one was made at 30 seconds today, but we had 89 minutes to turn it around and we didn’t manage to, so we all lost, not just one player.
“On previous occasions we were able to deliver after going behind but this time it wasn’t possible. Unfortunately we weren’t able to react as we should have after our accident in the first minute. We didn’t improvise or change our tactics.
“But our opponents were extremely well prepared. We acknowledge they were the better team and we congratulate them on their victory.”