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The Globe and Mail

Mexico stun Brazil to win men’s soccer gold

Mexico's Oribe Peralta (C) celebrates with his team mates after scoring a goal against Brazil during their men's football gold medal match at Wembley Stadium during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 11, 2012.


Once you get past the floppy, homage to Duran Duran hairdo, it becomes quickly apparent that Brazil forward Neymar is a pretty handy operator.

Which explains why throughout Saturday's gold medal soccer final he was tenderized at every occasion by Mexico defenders.

They kicked him, the bowled him over, at one point he took a flying elbow to the nose from Mexican goalkeeper Jose Corona, the by-product of a punched-away cross.

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It can have surprised no one when the 20-year-old Neymar, who has already scored 110 professional goals, missed an absolute sitter that would have tied the game.

The Mexican back four singled out the wonderful Brazil forward Oscar out for similar rough treatment - the Chelsea-bound forward duly missed a simple chance to level the scores at the death - and demonstrated to the world that committed team play and organized defence can defeat skill, flair and expectations.

This is the one gold medal that both Mexico and Brazil absolutely had to have in London - think Canada's hockey gold in Vancouver - only the Mexicans had a plan on how to do it, shocking the heavily-favoured, star-studded Brazilians 2-1 at Wembley.

Although the men in yellow were kind enough to oblige by committing a laughable error just after the opening kick-off.

Here's how not to start a crucial game for your country: get pinned against the touchline by an opponent and make a dodgy blind pass into the middle of the field.

Which is what happened to Brazil and Manchester United right back Rafael da Silva barely 20 seconds into the game, followed by a last-ditch deflection by teammate Sandro, whose touch tipped the ball into Mexican feet.

Mexican striker Oribe Peralta collected the ball and belted a right-footed drive into the bottom corner.

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Brazil keeper Gabriel should have done better, but the ball slipped under his right hand.

Brazil played most of the half in a daze, but woke up before the half-time break - the insertion of veteran forward Hulk seemed to help - and started the second with renewed vigour.

First the aptly-named Hulk rampaged down the right side and earned a free kick just outside the area.

Then Neymar fizzed a shot just inches over the Mexican crossbar.

It looked as if a tying goal was a foregone conclusion. And yet.

The Mexicans kept defending, the Brazilians kept wasting opportunities.

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Mexico's Marco Fabian almost put the game out of reach in the 65th minute, latching on to a flubbed clearance that ricocheted of his chest, grabbing the ball back from the Brazil keeper's block and looping an overhead kick onto the crossbar.

A few moments later, the 23-year-old Fabian knocked a free header over the top of the Brazil net.

In the 76th minute, Peralta eluded Brazil's Hulk on a free kick and duly nodded home from 10 yards.

Brazilian chins slumped on chests.

Coach Mano Menezes, who almost certainly won't escape By the time Hulk hooked a through-ball into the Mexican net a minute into injury time, any hope Brazil had was of the false variety.

Oscar had a free header to tie the game in added-on time, but it couldn't have been anything other than a bad miss given the 93 minutes that preceded.

Brazil has been an odd side at these Games, alternately enthralling and miserable - they were pressed hard by the likes of Egypt and Honduras in the group stages and quarter-finals, but looked dominant in the semi-final against Korea.

There's no obvious reason for why the Little Canaries, as they are known, haven't been able to capture an Olympic gold - after all, they've won every other trophy and bauble in world soccer.

Whatever the reason, they wandered out of the tunnel slowly and didn't really speed up for 35 or so minutes.

After losing an Olympic final to the USSR (1984) and to France (1988), the most successful footballing nation on earth will have to wait another four years for another chance - this time on home soil.

If they thought there was pressure this time, they haven't seen anything yet.

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