Mexico goes on scoring spree vs. South Korea to reach Olympic semifinals

Brazil beware. There is no team at the men’s Olympic soccer tournament that has looked as strong and played as consistently well as Mexico.

And that’s not hyperbole. Saturday’s comprehensive 6-3 quarterfinal win over South Korea is the latest evidence that El Tri is a legitimate contender for the gold medal in Tokyo. The Mexicans are only two games away from it, with Brazil coming up next in Tuesday’s semifinal (4 a.m. ET).

Club America teammates Henry Martin and Sebastian Cordova scored two goals each, and Luis Romo and Eduardo Aguirre had the other two, as Mexico ran its tournament-leading goals total to 14. With two games still to play, that’s already better than the number of goals it scored on its run to a gold medal in 2012.

MORE: Mexico players near top of Olympic scoring charts

Past the names on the scoresheet, there isn’t a Mexican player who can be called out for having a poor game, although there are a handful of plays they’d definitely want back. Take the yellow card picked up by influential fullback Jorge Sanchez with 14 minutes left in the game and the result well in hand. It will force one of Mexico’s best players at the Olympics to sit out the semifinal due to suspension for yellow card accumulation.

Playing without midfield fulcrum Carlos “Charly” Rodriguez, Mexico’s attack still managed to flow with winger Alexis Vega and creative midfielder Cordova conducting the attack. Martin was again rewarded for his selfless, hard-nosed play as the lone forward, and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa came up with big, timely stops behind a classy quartet of defenders who, despite the three goals allowed, were generally as effective defending as their attacking teammates were in finding the net.

The final result was also partly amplified by the fact that every bounce went Mexico’s way: a blatantly ridiculous push in the box by a South Korean defender that led to a penalty, a big save by Ochoa just before halftime and a South Korean free kick that hit the top of the crossbar at 3-1. That shouldn’t take away from an overall convincing Mexican performance. Here are the key takeaways from a memorable quarterfinal:

Mexico definitely got its overage players right

Each men’s team at the 2021 Olympics has the option of taking three players over the age of 24, which is this year’s age cutoff for all the other players on the roster. It’s hard to argue that Mexico manager Jaime Lozano got his three selections right.

MORE: Why there’s an age cutoff for the men’s Olympic soccer tournament

It starts with captain and goalkeeper Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa (36 years old), who had eight saves against South Korea, including closing down and blocking a thumping, close-range shot just before halftime with the score at 3-1. A goal there could have changed the momentum of the game. Ochoa’s commanding presence is a big reason for the calm confidence that Mexico continues to exude.

Midfielder Luis Romo, at age 26, is in the prime of his career, and he was a big part of Cruz Azul’s first Mexican league title in 23 years. He’s equally impactful on this Mexico side, showing great soccer instincts when it comes to which spaces on the field to occupy. He was in the box to supply a header assist on the first goal, and his technique was world-class on this must-watch control and volley:

That’s a goal that 28-year-old forward Henry Martin (below) will never score. We saw his type of goals against South Korea: a header around the six-yard box and another header on a set piece in the box. They’re the goals of a professional forward, who expertly plays the position with all the sacrificial runs, the hold-up play and the pressing work that is required.

He’s often criticized for his play and goal-scoring output, but he’s not the flashy brand of forward. Instead, he’s the type of player you want on your team because he contributes even when he’s not scoring.

(Getty Images)

Cordova finally stars for El Tri

With Carlos “Charly” Rodriguez serving a red-card suspension, it was critical for the 24-year-old midfielder Cordova to step up and take great responsibility on the ball, helping with the passing responsibilities and with keeping the team connected. He did that and more against South Korea, which is significant for a player who typically shows flashes of good plays, but rarely takes over a game.

In addition to leading the Mexican midfield in touches, successful passes and passing accuracy, he delivered two goals and an assist: a penalty conversion with his right foot, a stunning shot from outside the box with his left foot and a masterful free kick assist, also with his left. Here’s the non-penalty goal for your enjoyment:

It was only 10 days ago that his club team, Mexico City’s Club America, announced that Cordova would this year be wearing the No. 10 jersey worn by club legends and reserved for only the special attacking talents. Against South Korea, he put in a performance befitting a modern-day “No. 10,” and he commemorated his new number by celebrating like one of the Club America and Mexican national team legends, Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

These Olympics could be Cordova’s coming out party on an international level. His performance led one Mexican national team legend, former Barcelona star Rafael Marquez, to call him “the player with the most upside among young Mexican players. Hopefully, he’ll have options to come to Europe soon.”

(Getty Images)

Brazil up next in semis

The semifinal against Brazil will be a rematch of the 2012 men’s Olympic gold medal match, won by Mexico 2-1.

El Tri has a reputation for getting up for matches against Brazil and playing tough against the South American powers. Excluding the 2012 Olympic final (officially considered an Under-23 competition), in the last 15 times that the two senior national teams have faced off in official competition, the record is dead even at 7-7-1, though Brazil has won four of six single-elimination knockout matches.

Mexico vs. Brazil (official competitions since 1996)

Year Result Competition Stage
1996 Mexico 2, Brazil 0 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final
1997 Brazil 3, Mexico 2 Copa America Group
1997 Brazil 3, Mexico 2 Confederations Cup Group
1999 Brazil 2, Mexico 1 Copa America Group
1999 Brazil 2, Mexico 0 Copa America Semifinal
1999 Mexico 4, Brazil 3 Confederations Cup Final
2001 Mexico 1, Brazil 0 Copa America Group
2003 Mexico 1, Brazil 0 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group
2003 Mexico 1, Brazil 0 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final
2004 Brazil 4, Mexico 0 Copa America Quarters
2005 Mexico 1, Brazil 0 Confederations Cup Group
2007 Mexico 2, Brazil 0 Copa America Group
2013 Brazil 2, Mexico 0 Confederations Cup Group
2014 Mexico 0, Brazil 0 FIFA World Cup Group
2018 Brazil 2, Mexico 0 FIFA World Cup Rd. of 16

One reporter broke out Mexico vs. Brazil in finals at any level, and Mexico is undefeated against the Selecao. Technically they’re playing a semifinal at the 2021 Olympics, but it will definitely feel like a final.

As if they needed any extra motivation, the Mexican team is using a comment made earlier in the tournament by Brazil veteran Dani Alves as a rallying cry. Although Alves probably meant it as a compliment in response to Mexico’s tournament-opening 4-1 win against France, Alves was reported as saying that he’d love the chance to face Mexico in the Olympic final.

“Like Dani Alves said, he wanted us in the final,” Cordova told reporters after the win against South Korea. “So now he gets us right away [in a semifinal] and we’ll see who ends up with the gold medal. Like we’ve been telling you from the beginning, we came here to win a medal and we’re now close to one, but we still have the dream that it’s going to be the gold.”

Mexico is in fact guaranteed to play for a medal, whether it’s the gold-medal match (semifinal winners) or the bronze-medal game (semifinal losers).

Martin was asked whether he’s scared of Brazil, and he took the bait. It teed up this classic response that the Brazilians might peg on their bulletin board: “Afraid of Brazil? No, afraid of no one. Afraid of my mom, that’s it.”

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