Mexico’s gold medal quest ends in penalty shootout loss to Brazil
In an effort to keep the Olympic soccer tournament from eclipsing the World Cup for prestige and importance, FIFA limited it to players no older than 23. But it also allowed teams the opportunity to add three over-age players to their rosters.
One of Mexico’s exceptions for the Tokyo Games was goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, a four-time World Cup veteran who was chosen partly in anticipation of the exact circumstances El Tri found itself facing in Tuesday’s semifinal with Brazil: tiebreaking penalty kicks.
So much for that idea.
Ochoa failed to stop any of the four penalty kicks he faced, allowing Brazil to slip by to Saturday’s gold medal game with Spain. That marks Brazil’s third straight trip to the Olympic final, the first team to do that since Hungary in 1972.
Mexico will play Japan for the bronze on Friday.
“It hurts him as much as it hurts us to lose like this,” midfielder Carlos Rodríguez said of Ochoa. “There just aren’t any words to describe that feeling. Truly Memo was so close to being tonight’s hero.”
And he would have been had Rodríguez or any of his teammates been able to find a goal because Brazil’s attack was relentless, possessing the ball for more than 80 of the game’s 120 minutes and forcing Ochoa into six saves — including three spectacular stops in the first half.
Ochoa, the greatest Mexican keeper of his generation, also got some help from the goalpost late in the second half when Richarlison, one of nine Brazilians who plays for a major European club, got on the end of a Dani Alves cross and directed a header to the far post. But the ball struck the post then rebounded across the front of the goal without crossing the line.
On the other end, Brazil, which has allowed just one goal in its last 396 minutes, kept it mostly quiet for its goalkeeper Danilo. He didn’t face a shot until the closing minutes of the first half and had just three saves, mostly easy ones, on the night.
The game was a matchup of the last two Olympics champions and a rematch of the 2012 gold medal match, won by Mexico. And if that’s not enough history, Brazil’s senior team ended Mexico’s last World Cup in the round of 16 in Russia.
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The sides weren’t strangers.
“We highly respect Mexico,” Brazilian coach Andre Jardine said. “They’re a traditional rival of ours.”
That respect has limits, though, because the game got increasingly chippy as it went on, with Mexican forward Diego Lainez sporting a bloody nose at the end after taking a boot to the face. Given the physicality of the game, the pressure of defending all night and the hot and humid conditions, getting to penalty kicks must have looked like a good strategy for Mexican coach Jaime Lozano.
But even though his team engaged in a number of time-wasting tactics in the overtime periods, they weren’t stalling, Lozana said. His players were simply exhausted.
“I wanted to win any way possible. Through a counterattack, through a penalty,” he said. “I just wanted to come out on top.”
Mexico’s Olympic team is certainly familiar with penalty kicks, having lost in a shootout in the 2019 Pan American Games before winning one in last spring’s pre-Olympic tournament. And this time they had Ochoa in goal.
“I have a lot of confidence in Memo,” defender Johan Vasquez. “But that’s the way this game goes. It wasn’t just one player. It was the group. It takes all of us.”
Ochoa guessed correctly on all four Brazilian penalty kicks, twice getting a hand on them. But he was a half-step too slow each time. Santos, meanwhile, stopped Eduardo Aguirre’s try in the first round and appeared to push Vasquez’s shot off the post. So when Reinier, a second-half substitute for Brazil, literally rolled his shot under a diving Ochoa, Brazil was on to the final.
And Mexico was off in search of bronze.
“The idea was to go for the gold since before we even arrived here,” Lozano said. “But I told the [players] when we came off the field how proud I am of them. And in three days we still have a shot at taking home a medal.
“Tonight we were on the losing side. Obviously it hurts. It’s going to be tough, honestly, to sleep tonight. But at the end of the day we’re professionals and we are strong and we still have a chance at a medal.”
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