The Mexican team is one step closer to earning its first Olympic medal after knocking off a persistent Senegal squad in London.LONDON -- It wasn't easy, but they got the job done.
Giovani dos Santos and Hector Herrera scored in extra time to lead Mexico to the semifinals of the 2012 Olympic Games with a thrilling 4-2 win over Senegal in front of 81,855 at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
Jorge Enriquez scored on a header in the first half and Javier Aquino gave Mexico a two-goal lead before Senegal tied it late with headers from Moussa Konate and Ibrahima.
"Wow, that was a difficult game," Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena said.
Mexico, which won Group A, remains unbeaten in four Olympic matches and will face Japan in the semifinals after the Asian squad defeated Egypt earlier in the day. The semi matchup will be played at Wembley.
The CONCACAF champs have never finished better than fourth in the Olympics, but they now find themselves one win away from playing for a gold medal in London. However, getting past the quarterfinals proved to be a challenge Mexico wasn't expecting after leading 2-0 with under a half-hour to play.
Mexico had the momentum early on before Senegal turned the page in a spirited second-half run.
"We watched Senegal against Great Britain and Uruguay and knew they were a good team and dangerous, in particular through high balls," Tena said. "But what I'm most happy about is that after Senegal fought back to 2-2, we were able to pull away again."
In just the second minute, forward Marco Fabian hit the cross bar after some confusion by Senegal's defenders. With the ball just sitting in the box, Fabian barely missed the golden opportunity to open the game, but Enriquez would make up for the miss moments later.
Dos Santos placed a beautifully-taken free kick into the center of the box and Enriquez got his head on the ball to redirect it past the surprised goalkeeper Ousmane Mane in the 10th minute for the afternoon's first goal.
It was only a time before Senegal would start to provide pressure of its own, however. Konate, who entered the match as the tournament's leading scorer with four goals in three games, put El Tri keeper Jose Corona in tough situations throughout the entire match before finally adding to his goal tally.
Konate's first chance came in the 17th minute when he faked right and went left to force Corona into a diving save. On the ensuing corner kick, Konate was ruled offside with the ball in his feet with only Corona between him and the goal.
The first half ended with Mexico regaining its momentum as Peralta should have gotten El Tri its second goal after Fabian fed him a perfect ball right in front of the six-yard box, but the Santos Laguna forward's header went just wide of the left post.
Shortly after the restart, Dos Santos played a perfect one-two with Carlos Salcido but the Tottenham man tried to get to fancy by looking for a pass instead of firing a shot from point-blank range.
Moments later, Senegal would continue the back-and-forth as it took advantage of a free kick following a Salcido takedown on the sideline. Khalidou Yero found Pape Souare for the header, but Corona was once again there to save Mexico.
Mexico would double its lead and give itself a bigger cushion in the 62nd minute thanks to Aquino being in the right place at the right time. After Senegal failed on several chances to clear in front of its goal, Oribe Peralta slid the ball into the keeper and Aquino was there to tap in the rebound.
With the minutes ticking down, El Tri appeared to have one foot in the semifinals. But Senegal had a different thought and would shock the North Americans.
It was no surprise who would score the first goal for Senegal. In the 69th minute, Konate continued his brilliant Olympic run with a header off a Pape Souare cross. He finished the tournament with five goals.
"I'm happy to score five goals," he said, "but I would like to continue in the Olympics."
Senegal took advantage of a major size differential with the Mexicans with only 11 minutes left to play as the 6-foot-3 Ibrahima went up high for a powerful header after receiving the corner-kick assist from Souare.
Souare was perhaps the most impressive player for Senegal, but he also provided the most controversial moment in the 81st minute when he kicked Hector Herrera in the face while going up for a high ball. On a play that should have resulted in a red card, the referee only gave him a yellow.
It was clear Mexico was stronger in the first extra-time period and Dos Santos proved it by taking advantage of aa defensive error to give his team the lead.
Senegal defender Papa Gueye - one of the three over-age players on the squad - received a pass in his own box and failed to control as two Mexican forwards swarmed. Dos Santos grabbed it off his feet and beat Mane with a bullet for the winner.
It was Dos Santos' third goal of the tournament after the winger scored twice against Gabon in the second group game. Despite not starting in the first two games, Dos Santos has been Mexico's top performer during this Olympic campaign.
"I'm so happy," he said. "It's an unbelievable experience for me and the team."
Senegal would have one more mistake that led to the fourth goal after a defender went to pass back to Mane and Herrera was there to use his head to place the ball in an empty net.
It may have been the second defensive error that let to a goal in extra time, costing the only African team left in the tournament a chance to advance, but Senegal assistant coach Aliou Cisse says it was a learning process for his young players.
"It's true that there were certain individual errors which you could say cost us the game," Cisse said. "But please remember these are young players and these are mistakes they will learn from, so I don't think we should be too hard on them."
Mexico and Japan meet on Tuesday at 2:45 p.m. ET.