Defending gold medalist Mexico will look to pick up its first victory of the 2016 Olympics when taking on Fiji in Salvador on Sunday. It was in Salvador's Fonte Nova Arena that Mexico kicked off the defense of its men's Olympic football title on Thursday, securing a point from an entertaining 2-2 draw with Germany.
While failing to get maximum points, it was a performance that demonstrated that Mexico have the potential to very much be medal contenders once again in Brazil. Twice Raul Gutierrez's side took the lead in a pulsating second half, first through the match winner in the 2012 final, Oribe Peralta and then rising star Rodolfo Pizarro.
Mexico more than held its own against a team that may not be the strongest Germany has to offer at Under-23 level, but that still features a number of players already with considerable Bundesliga experience. Yet Mexico was unable to lock the game down, particularly struggling to keep German live wire Serge Gnabry quiet. Showing the ambition that this Mexico side has, Gutierrez spoke after the final whistle of his disappointment that his side twice threw away a lead.
It now promises to be a very different challenge against Fiji. The pacific island has made it to the Olympics in men's football for the first time in 2016 after getting a major slice of fortune in qualifying. The perennial top dog of the region, New Zealand, was eliminated after fielding an ineligible player in its semifinal against Vanuatu. Fiji then beat Vanuatu in the final on penalties.
But Fiji got a taste of just how difficult it will be to compete at this level in its opening match of the Olympics against 2012 bronze medalists South Korea. The minnows initially did well to keep the score goalless through the first 30 minutes and then to go into halftime just a single goal behind.
But the fitness disadvantage of a roster that, with the exception of Roy Krishna, who plays in the Australian A-League for Wellington Phoenix, all play in Fiji for amateur clubs, was there for all to see in the second half. South Korea racked up seven goals in the final 30 minutes to complete an emphatic 8-0 victory.
Anything less than three points and a commanding win for Mexico on Sunday would be a major surprise. And because of that, in a short competition where the matches come thick and fast, Gutierrez may well opt to rotate his side. One player who could drop out is the Olympic veteran Peralta. The oldest outfield player on the 18-man roster, Peralta was taken off with 16 minutes remaining against Germany due, according to Gutierrez, because of exhaustion.
Erick “Cubo” Torres, who came on for the closing minutes on Thursday, could get the start, or Gutierrez may opt to switch to a 4-3-3 and bring in winger Carlos Cisneros.
Prediction: This should be a comfortable afternoon in Salvador for Mexico. Fiji may be able to cause some frustration early, but Mexico has enough quality going forward to run out emphatic winners.
Predicted Score: Mexico 6-0 Fiji