WEMBLEY, ENGLAND – The defense never rested, but it wasn’t good enough.
Mexico, the superior offensive team in the match, found holes in Japan’s defense, attacked relentlessly and rode that effort to a clinical 3-1 victory Tuesday night in the Olympic men’s soccer tournament semifinals at Wembley Stadium.
After falling behind 1-0 in the 12th minute, Mexico scored three unanswered goals, one apiece from Marco Fabian in the 31st minute, Oribe Peralta in the 65th and Javier Cortes in injury time, and controlled the tempo for most of the match.
Mexico will meet Brazil, a 3-0 winner in Tuesday’s second semifinal, for the gold medal on Saturday night. Japan and South Korea will vie for the bronze a day earlier in Cardiff, Wales.
“The difference was that Mexico are good shooters and until now we have not played a team with this skill,” Japan midfielder Takashi Usami said. “Mexico attacked very well and put us under pressure, particularly in the second half.”
The Japan men’s team had hoped to follow Nadeshiko Japan, which will play the United States on Friday for the gold at Wembley, for back-to-back nights of both national teams competing for the top Olympic prizes.
Speed, not enough of it, was a big problem for Japan in defeat.
“We were unable to maintain our pace and Mexico was able to target us there,” said Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka, who began his postgame remarks by congratulating Mexico. “It wasn’t just one player, the whole team was moving slowly.”
He added: “We had prepared to win and had a good start, but then we stopped moving . . .”
From outside the area, forward Yuki Otsu, who plays for Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany, staked Japan to a 1-0 lead when he blasted a shot into the top of the net past Mexico goalkeeper Jose Corona in the 12th minute.
That seemed to light a fire under Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena’s charges, and the match grew increasingly one-sided as time marched on.
Mexico levelled the score in the 31st minute when Marco Fabian headed in an corner kick past ‘keeper Shuichi Gonda.
Fabian’s goal was the first conceded by Japan in the Olympic tournament.
“We never lost out heads after Japan went ahead,” Fabian said. “They scored a fantastic goal, but we kept our tactical shape and we fought together for the team.
“The goal had to come,” the 23-year-old forward said, “and what a moment for it to happen. The fact that it happened at such a special place like Wembley and that it helped us guarantee a medal, made it all a little bit better.”