Mexico's strong play in the group netted El Tri a historic first place finish, and Honduras plans on slaying more giants on its road to Olympic glory.Of the four European soccer teams that qualified to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, only one made it past the group stage. North America, a land that after 1904 has produced exactly zero medals in men's soccer, has seen both of its representatives survive the first round.
Mexico's stellar youth development over the last few years means that even without the likes of Carlos Vela, Jonathan dos Santos (who would not have counted against the age rule), Andres Guardado or even Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, El Tri can compete with the best of them and expect positive results. That's exactly why, despite the fact history has already been made in London, no one in the Mexican camp is even remotely satisfied.
"We haven't won anything. Our objective is to be on the podium," Marco Fabian said after Mexico dispatched Switzerland in the Group B finale.
Indeed, a medal would be confirmation that these boys are maturing as 2014 peeks around the corner. Like that Latin phrase emblazoned on the club crest still currently adorning Giovani dos Santos reads, Mexico must dare first in order to do.
And yet, there is still much that can be nitpicked about Mexico's early performances at the Olympics. Lord knows the Mexican press have been going on non-stop about them. Will the real Marco Fabian please stand up? Why isn't Giovani starting every game? What will happen to Mexico's midfield should Hector Herrera remain injured? How is Luis Fernando Tena justifying using Carlos Salcido at defensive midfield?
The list goes on.
To push through to the medal rounds, Mexico will have to engage not only with a strong team in Senegal that has proven its worth by getting out of probably the toughest group of the entire tournament, but also with complacency and the historic jitters that Mexico has gotten when stepping on the big stage.
Much like Senegal, Honduras has donned the role of giant-killer in London 2012, by mortally wounding Spain's tournament in the epic 1-0 win over La Roja about a week ago. The growth of one of Central America's proudest teams is also no fluke, and Los Catrachos have taken over for Costa Rica as the dominant team of a region that collectively, has only a handful of World Cup appearances.
With Mexico as its fiercest rival, Honduras has been scratching at the upper echelon of CONCACAF for a while now. A solid round of qualifying put them into the 2010 World Cup for the first time since 1982. At last year's Gold Cup, La H was the only team that pushed eventual champion Mexico into extra time. This year, Honduras qualified for the Olympics (ahead of the United States) and once again faced Mexico in the regional tournament final before being stifled once more by the region's giant.
Stability has been key for La Bicolor, who have been under the guidance of two Colombian managers for the better part of the last five years. Following in Reinaldo Rueda's footsteps, fellow South American Luis Fernando Suarez is bent on making CONCACAF's two-country party into a threesome.
"In the last seven months, we've worked so hard, every day, week and month. We're confident," said Suarez when asked about Brazil, his next opponent.
Why wouldn't he be? Honduras was given a snowball's chance in hell in Group D, being picked to finish last by most observers. Beating Spain and qualifying past the first round already has most Bicolor fans over the moon, but potentially losing, however gracefully, to Brazil should be no cherry on top for Honduras.
To be representing CONCACAF, a region often derided as the dregs of the footballing world by outsiders and, yes, some insiders, Mexico and Honduras' excellence so far is a sore thumb, an uncomfortable eyesore for those who refuse to recognize how far the region has come in the past few years.
Mexico's lone representative in both the 2004 and 2012 Games, goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona, summed up his chances now as opposed to eight years ago quite nicely. "I'm more excited this time around. We recognize that we have an opportunity to truly transcend and put Mexico's name up high within the sport."
And CONCACAF's, as well.
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