Two of the contenders for gold will go head-to-head on the opening day of the men's Olympic football competition. Gold medal winners from four years ago in London, Mexico, will take on Germany, making its first Olympic appearance since 1988 but with a talented young squad at its disposal, in a group that also includes South Korea and Fiji.
Mexico was a surprise winner in 2012, upsetting Brazil in the final at Wembley to claim gold for the first time. But under coach Raul Gutierrez Mexico has brought a talented squad, including young Pachuca trio Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Rodolfo Pizarro and Erick Gutierrez, all of whom have been called up to the senior squad. And plenty of experience has been chosen for the allotted three over-21 players.
Striker Oribe Peralta scored the two goals that beat Brazil in London, Jorge Torres Nilo fills a hole at left-back and veteran goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera is arguably Mexico's best in the position. And, while to some players the Olympics may fall a long way down on the list of priorities, Talavera can't wait to take part – and is determined to help Mexico to gold once again.
“Our aim is to bring home another gold medal,” he told Fifa.com. “I can’t wait. The Olympic Games are not something you get to experience every day. I travelled to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but I didn’t get the chance to play. Now that I’m here, I just want to make the very most of this opportunity. I plan to enjoy myself – responsibly of course, but I want to have fun.”
The Mexico squad has had more time together in preparation for the event than many, including Germany, and already has a game under its belt – playing out a goalless draw with its Argentina counterparts. Germany also hasn't selected its strongest squad available, with the likes of Leroy Sane, Joshua Kimmich and Emre Can not taken after playing at Euro 2016. Still, Talavera is anticipating stiff test on Thursday.
“It’s a very strong team with well-renowned, experienced players,” he said. “To win, we will have to be tactically very disciplined, and aggressive if the match goes that way. We like to keep the ball so, if they let us play our game, then great. But we’ll be able to adapt if that’s not the case.”
Germany still possesses an impressive squad, including youngsters Max Meyer and Julian Brandt as well as experienced midfield pair, twins Lars and Sven Bender. Coach Horst Hrubesch, a long-time youth coach with Germany, is targeting top spot in Group C and making it onto the semifinals, which would which mean getting to play in Rio and fully soak up the unique Olympic atmosphere.
“We have explained a lot recently how fascinating the Olympic Village is,” he said. “That’s why we want to finish top of our group, win our quarterfinal and make it to the Olympic Village for the semi-final. We will be together every step of the way on our journey.”
While the opening game may not be in Rio, the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador has special memories for German football. It was at that same venue that Germany beat Portugal 4-0 to kick off its World Cup campaign two years ago before going on to lift the trophy.