Japan's Hiroki Sakai, Kensuke Nagai and Yuki Otsu celebrate after winning the match in their men's Group D football match against Morocco at the London 2012 Olympic Games at St James' Park in Newcastle, northern England July 29, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Nigel Roddis)
Brazil's (L-R) Rafael, Thiago Silva, Marcelo and Leandro Damiao (9) celebrate defeating Honduras in their men's quarter final soccer match against Brazil at the London 2012 Olympic Games at St James' Park in Glascow August 4, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/David Moir)
After a tremendous round of quarter-finals matches, the four remaining contestants have proven to provide a plethora of surprises and even disappointments. Which of the four remaining squads has what it takes to win the Gold Medal?
Japan over Brazil? It's a tight race here, but the Samurais have quietly been the best all around squad and their impressive showing against Egypt and Brazil's undeserved win over Honduras places Japan as the team to bet your money on.
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And how can you not bet on a team that through matches against Spain, Morocco, Honduras, and Egypt (all squads with scoring upside) has yet to let the ball cross the goal line in four games. Throw in an offensive outburst against Egypt and you have a team that has depth in net, on defense, and up top. And it is arguable that the Japanese have yet to reach their best play. They get Mexico in the next round, a team that the offensive and defensive goods, but has lacked the consistent, imposing form of the Japanese.
The Samba Kings could still win it all. They certainly have the most talent of any team left, but their match against Honduras was heartless at best. When Honduras' top players came off the field at the end of the match, the roaring ovations they received indicated that the crowd knew which of the two was the better team. The jeering and booing Brazilian phenom Neymar received every time he touched the ball only supported that notion. And while we are on the subject of Brazil's star forward, it is essential that he has been Jekyl and Hyde; one match he plays like a soccer genius and then other matches he will be selfish, wait too long and make passes to the other team.
Brazil played extremely well in the group stage, but it was clear they are far from a complete squad. Defensively they have given up five goals through four matches, the most of any squad remaining. People could point to the 12 goals they have scored to date, but the three against Honduras included a penalty shot goal and another two scored while a man up. Had Honduras not gone a man down, who knows if we are talking about Brazil today.
Mexico can score and they can defend. The latter fact was proven when the squad did not allow a single goal through the group stage, while the former was proven in an emphatic 4-2 win over Senegal.
However, Mexico has not been a particularly composed squad through its four matches. Against Korea, they often looked lethargic while their match to Senegal saw them cough up a 2-0 lead with under 20 minutes remaining. The team bounced back and won off two defensive lapses from Senegal, but there is certainly concern for a squad that has not stood out for prolonged periods of time in their matches.
Giovanni Dos Santos has been a stud thus far and Marco Fabian finally made himself noticed against Senegal despite not scoring any goals yet.
Japan plays a similar style which should lead to a battle of wills.
Someone needs to be last, but picking between Korea and Mexico came down to which team had the better matchup in the semi-finals. While Korea does not match up poorly against Brazil, both teams are offensively gifted squads with the potential for defensive meltdowns.
Korea's defensive collapse has yet to materialize but glimpses of it were evident against Great Britain in which a timely save on a penalty kick at the end of the first half was the difference between their elimination and the semi-finals. Offensively they have yet to produce the offensive juggernaut that some have come to expect, making it a concern as to how they will fare in what could be a wide-open high-scoring affair. Brazil has 12 goals in the tournament; Korea only has a third of that number and has only put the ball in the net in half of their matches. Korea has only given up two goals to Brazil's five, but they are hampered by injuries on the backend and lack the offensive talent of the Brazilian squad.
However, not all is grim for Korea. Brazil played poorly in the semi-finals against a Honduras squad that had a lot of grit and heart. Korea played with the same intensity against Britain and came out on top. They are better than Honduras and with the same determination and grit they could very well grind out a victory against an unconvincing Selecao.