Brazil, Spain to joust for golden glory

3 Aug 2021
  • Rio 2016 kings Brazil into another Olympic final

  • Spain break local hearts in extra time

  • reviews the latest action at Tokyo 2020

Just Brazil and Spain remain of the 16 hopefuls in the race to be crowned Men’s Olympic Football Tournament champions. The pair came out on top in supremely tight semi-finals to set up up a mouth-watering decider on Saturday. Holders Brazil needed penalties to outlast Mexico after 120 gruelling minutes and reach their third successive final. Spain remain on track to claim their first gold medal since their home Olympics in 1992 after a winner deep into extra time against Japan.

The results Mexico 0-0 (1-4 pens) Brazil A semi-final between Mexico and Brazil promised much on paper and while it was short on goals, the intensity was high. Meeting for the first time at the Olympics since the London 2012 gold medal match, the pair defied some testing humidity to turn on a well-balanced encounter that was only decided via spot-kicks after 120 gruelling minutes. While the goal-mouth action slowed in the second period, the pace barely relented with such a rich prize on offer for the victors. Richarlison’s 82nd-minute header off the inside of the post was the closest either team came to scoring during the contest. Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made several first-half saves as did opposition No1 Santos, but two early failures from Mexico in the shootout handed the ascendency to Brazil.

Japan 0-1 Spain Spain had the better of the half-chances, but again it needed a full 120 minutes to separate the pair. The contest was fairly high-energy given the schedule and clear tiredness during the added 30 minutes. Japan’s Spain-based superstar Takefusa Kubo was surprisingly removed for extra time and it took Marco Asensio’s superb finish with just five minutes of it remaining to lift La Roja into the final. Japan could not avoid the national team’s spiritual home in Saitama becoming their graveyard, just as it did for their female counterparts last week.

Key moments Goals dry up It seemed goals were assured heading into Mexico’s match against Brazil in Kashima. Mexico had scored 14 in their five previous matches, with Brazil netting eight times, five of which were scored by Richarlison. It was indeed Brazil’s Everton-based forward who came closest to breaking the deadlock, but his second-half header was surely millimetres from going in off the post rather than across the face of goal. Ochoa seeking to turn back time Mexico’s veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was hoping to turn the clock back to 2014 when his inspired performance against Brazil earned El Tri a memorable FIFA World Cup™ draw. This time Ochoa pulled over several key saves in the first half, but he was unable to change the course of the penalty shootout despite several near misses. Instead, Santos made a crucial block from Eduardo Aguirre to give Brazil the momentum from the shoot-out opener.

Japan style etiquette One of the abiding memories of this Olympic Games for those in attendance will undoubtedly be the unfailing politeness of the Japanese people. The nation’s quarter-final shoot-out win over New Zealand was met by the mildest ripple of applause and appreciation among a large assembly of volunteers in the media centre. Similarly, in the semi-final, a correctly overturned penalty initially awarded against Maya Yoshida was not met by wild revelry, but by clapping and some cheering from the local assembled media in the packed tribune. Rarefied air Japan’s appearance in the semi-finals of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament was a rare occasion. Aside from their fourth-placed finish in 2012, Japan had not featured in a men’s semi since 1968, during the memorable Olympiad at altitude in Mexico City. On that occasion they lost 5-0 against Hungary. Early goals at a premium It was no surprise that Spain went into the half-time break with the score at 0-0. Four of their five matches at Tokyo 2020 have been that way at the break, and the other – against Côte d'Ivoire – was 1-1 at the midway point. Similarly, Japan had conceded just one goal in their previous four matches for the best defensive record of all of the four teams left in the competition.

The stat 18 – Brazil have now lost only one of their last 18 matches at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament. Since losing the gold medal match in 2012, they are unbeaten in 11 successive games and have kept eight clean sheets during that run. The quote Luis Romo, Mexico: “We are a very mature group that aims to fight for as much as we can aspire. After today we can’t fight for the gold or silver, but we very well know that the next goal is the bronze. We can’t go back home with our hands empty." The fixtures Gold medal match 7 August, 20:30 local time (13:30 CEST) Spain-Brazil International Stadium Yokohama Bronze medal match 6 August, 20:00 local time (13:00 CEST) Japan-Mexico Saitama Stadium