Let me start by making it emphatically clear that I never in my life thought I would be writing an article explaining why Mexico deserves to win any game.
As a United States soccer fan, Mexico has and will always be the enemy—especially when we play them “in our own backyard” and they still have more supporters than us in the stands.
Nevertheless, coach Luis Fernando Tena’s men have proven that they are more than worthy of being Olympic champions.
Despite a hiccup in the quarterfinal match against Senegal, which only saw them win 4-2 as a result of two terribly-timed and misplaced back-passes by their opponents, they have easily been the surprise team of the tournament.
In the group stage, the Mexicans started with a tense 0-0 draw against South Korea, but then responded with confident, albeit close victories against Gabon and Switzerland to advance as one of the tournament’s top seeds.
The following match against Senegal clearly illustrated their attacking prowess and team solidarity, as they were not only able to score when opportunities presented themselves, but also successfully held-off an extremely aggressive opponent that could have easily scored more if not for the heroic goalkeeping of José de Jesús Corona. The back-line may have let through two header goals due to their lack of height, but worked extremely well together throughout the 120 minutes.
In the semifinal, the young and fearless Mexicans continued their onslaught against an entertaining Japan side that defeated Spain in the group stage and scored very early in the first half to potentially shift the tide of the game their way.
Despite the wastefulness of their heroic playmaker Giovani dos Santos, who was substituted at half-time in what could have been a massive mistake by coach Tena, 21-year-old Jorge Enríquez stepped into the leader’s shoes and helped to engineer an eventual 3-1 victory.
Considering that Mexico is without arguably their best player, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who was not allowed to travel by Manchester United, they have managed to claw their way to the final as a team and with various players, including often-overlooked forward Oribe Peralta, rising to the next level.
Brazil, on the other hand, have been the authors of an entirely different story at the Olympics.
With two-time defending gold medalist Argentina failing to qualify for the tournament, the Brazilians were touted as the early favorites, yet almost threw away a three-goal lead against Egypt in their opening game, finishing as 3-2 winners.
The next matches against Belarus and New Zealand proved much easier, and the Brazilian attack, featuring the prolific Leandro Damião, as well as international stars Neymar and Pato, managed three goals in each outing to qualify for the quarterfinals with a perfect record.
Against Honduras, however, they needed the obvious assistance of German referee Felix Brych, who ejected a Honduras player in the first half after two very debatable yellow cards and awarded the Brazilians a penalty just as 10-man Honduras took the lead at 2-1.
Brazil eventually won 3-2 against the much less experienced Central Americans, although they awoke the anger of countless football fans with their shameful diving and theatrics.
As most viewers expected, the five-time World Cup winners managed to get their act together for the semifinal. And, with Chelsea-bound Oscar at his very best, the team handed South Korea a thorough 3-0 defeat to advance to Saturday night's big match.
In the final, regardless of all the promise around Mexico’s surreal run to the Olympic finals, Brazil will clearly possess the much bigger names with heftier price tags and a wealth of experience in club and international football that their opponents cannot match.
Out of the 18 players in their squad, Brazil only have 5 playing domestic club football in Brazil, while Mexico is the total opposite—only Dos Santos is stationed abroad, though he rarely plays at Tottenham Hotspur.
So, it could seem like an assured victory for the South Americans, who are looking to claim their first ever Olympic gold medal.
Yet, Mexico do not deserve to be counted out. Many of the players in the squad are graduates of a youth system that earned the nation the 2005 and 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup trophies. Furthermore, they possess the kind of vigor and national pride that appears to be lacking in the mighty Brazil.
Giovani dos Santos and the rest of the team will need to put on the performance of their lives if they are to pull a shocker and claim a victory that will send shockwaves throughout the footballing world. Mexico's togetherness should contrast immensely with the individual talent of players like Neymar and tournament top-scorer Damião, and even a minor mistake could result in tragedy for the side.
But, after Brazil's shameful performance against Honduras and Mexico's resoluteness throughout the tournament, it will be hard to find anybody rooting against them to claim Olympic gold.