LONDON – Brazil’s Olympic curse continues.
The five-time World Cup champion once again leaves the Olympics without a gold medal in men’s soccer after Mexico stunned the South American favorites 2-1 on a pair of goals by Oribe Peralta. It is the only major title that has eluded the soccer-loving nation, and the loss will be viewed a crushing blow in Brazil, which is hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.
Peralta’s first goal came 28 seconds into the game, while hundreds of the 86,162 fans at Wembley Stadium were still finding their seats. It was the quickest goal in Olympic history. He scored the clincher in the 75th minute on a header off an indirect free kick.
Aptly-named Hulk, a burly forward, scored for Brazil in extra time, but it was too little too late.
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Mexican fans had already broken into “Cielito Lindo,’’ and the Mexican bench was erupting as everyone waited for the final whistle. When it sounded, most of the Brazilian players fell to the ground, stunned. Real Madrid defender Marcelo wept. The Mexicans jumped up and down, and later did a victory lap wrapped in their tri-colored flag. It was Mexico’s first gold medal in any sport at these Olympics, and their first ever in soccer.
The atmosphere felt very much like a World Cup game, even though Olympic men’s soccer is an Under-23 tournament that allows each team three overage players.
“We want the people in Mexico to believe in this young generation of players,’’ said Giovani Dos Santos, who did not play after pulling a muscle. “We showed everyone that we are ready to win important competitions. This gold medal goes to all of those in Mexico who always believed in us. I want them to enjoy and to celebrate. For those who didn't believe in us? Well, let them celebrate too."
The young Brazilian team, led by star Neymar, came in with much promise and is the core of the team expected to compete in the World Cup. Eleven of the Brazilians play in Europe, and seven of them started. Mexico’s roster has only one Europe-based player, Tottenham Hotspur’s Dos Santos, who watched from the bench as Peralta stole the headlines.
"I don't know if this was the best match of my career, but what I do know is that this is the most important because I am here today with a gold medal,’’ said Peralta. "I dreamed about this moment. It is one of those things you don't get to live every day. Brazil were the favorites but we knew that would put some extra pressure on them."
His first goal came as a result of a lazy pass by Brazilian defender Rafael, who plays for Manchester United. It was intercepted by Javier Aquino, who tapped it to Peralta. Brazil seemed shocked by the quick goal, and never fully recovered. They had scored an average of three goals through each of the first five Olympic matches, but couldn’t find the back of the net until the 91st minute Saturday
"I feel very sad right now,’’ said Neymar. “It is obvious we wanted to win the gold medal. We have to accept that Mexico were better and they deserved to win."
Added Thiago Silva: "What we have to do is somehow get through this bad moment. Life doesn't end here. The football season is just starting and we have to think about it."
The Brazilian federation said before the Games that an Olympic gold medal was a priority, and treated the event as such. Rather than stay in the Athletes Village, the Brazilians were secluded in the English countryside so they could focus.
It made no difference. They take home a silver medal for the third time.
A team featuring Romario and Bebeto settled for a silver medal after a 2-1 defeat to the Soviet Union at the 1988 Seoul Games, and Brazil also lost the final in 1984. They have won two bronzes (1996, 2008)
The Mexican players could not stop smiling. Their coach, Luis FernandoTena, dedicated the medal to his late father.
"This has been the highest point of my career,’’ he said. “To sing the national anthem with a gold medal around your neck is priceless. Winning this gold medal on the sacred pitch of Wembley makes it even more special. This is a fair reward for my 18 warriors."
Mexican soccer has been rising in recent years, and is gaining worldwide recognition. Javier “Chicharito’’ Hernandez two years ago became the first Mexican player to join Manchester United. This gold medal will give the Mexican team even more confidence heading into the next World Cup cycle.
"We just entered the history books of Mexican sport,’’ said Marco Fabian. “We have given our people an immense joy. This is unforgettable.’’