Olympic Soccer 2012: Top Matchups to Watch in Gold Medal Matches

Benjamin J. Block@BenjaminBlock21Correspondent IIAugust 8, 2012

Team USA one step away from gold
Team USA one step away from goldStanley Chou/Getty Images

The Olympic soccer gold medal matches have been configured. The matchups on the women's and men's side that these 2012 Olympics have produced are nothing short of exciting.

On the women's side, the world gets an absolute gift as the rematch of the 2011 World Cup game between USA and Japan is all set to take place. It should prove to be a great match especially since many people refer to that 2011 World Cup final as one of the best soccer matches of all time in women's action. 

The United States is still buzzing from the game-winning goal scored off the head of Alex Morgan in the 123rd minute of the game against Canada on Monday. As big and exciting as that was, the women's team will have to refocus their energy towards the Japanese team that took their World Cup glory just one year ago.

The gold medal game slated for 2:45 p.m. EST on Thursday should live up to the hype.

If you go back to the 2011 World Cup, USA had the lead 2-1 with chances to put the game away, but the Japanese women eventually came back to tie it and subsequently beat the USA women's team 3-1 in penalty kicks.

At that time, it was hard to be upset at the loss because Japan was only a few months removed from the earthquake and tsunami that left that country broken.  

While that loss was bittersweet, Thursday's gold medal match will feature Alex Morgan as she'll face this Japan team for the fourth time in a year. It won't hurt that she'll have Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe's experience and talent to rely on.

They face a very quality Japanese team that excels at controlling the ball, and with both teams at full strength, it's possible we'll see another classic.   

On the men's side of things, Brazil reaches their first Olympic final in 24 years as they cruised past South Korea on Tuesday.

It's incredible to think a country that has Pele as their soccer ambassador and five World Cup Championships, the title of Olympic Champion still eludes them. When most fans think of soccer, they think of the iconic yellow jersey and household names like Pele, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho.

Brazil now heavily relies on guys like Neymar and Leandro Damiao if they want to bring home the gold. The Brazilian team has taken on the New York Yankees mindset where second place, or silver in this case, would be considered a failure.

According to an article by AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni, Brazil's head coach puts the gold medal game in perspective.

"We've been dealing well with this process," Menezes said. "I don't think the players feel they have this weight on their backs because we don't have this medal. And that's great because it would be an unwanted obstacle for the team in addition to the one we will have on the field."

As Menezes and the rest of the Brazilian team are aware, they will face a dangerous Mexican team that is slowly climbing out of international irrelevance with every victory. They are young, they've been together a long time, and they have battled every kind of adversity, so a gold medal match should not phase them.

The stigma about Mexico teams in the past has been that they don't rise to the challenge, but they have been dismissing those critics in these 2012 games.

Oribe Peralta will have to continue his hot play for Mexico if they want to keep their gold medal chances alive. Saturday's final with Brazil will be uncharted territory for Mexico: Their best showing in an Olympics, prior to Tuesday's 3-0 win over Japan, was when they were beaten in the 1968 bronze medal match by Japan.

As Brazil plays in Saturday's final with all the pressure on their shoulders to take home the gold, Mexico has already exceeded expectations and will be playing with nothing to lose.  

Both the men's and women's gold medal matches have great rooting interests, tremendous story lines and are sure to entertain.

Sit back and enjoy.