Host City: London, Great Britain
Venue(s): City of Coventry Stadium, Coventry; Hampden Park, Glasgow; Millennium Stadium, Cardiff; Old Trafford, Manchester; St James' Park, Newcastle; Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London
Date Started: July 26, 2012
Date Finished: August 11, 2012
Format: Round-robin pools advance teams to single-elimination tournament of eight teams.
Although they had never won a gold medal at the Olympics, Brazil was favored to do so now. The squad featured top players like Hulk, [Marcelo] and Neymar along with a host of talents, several of which had played when Brazil won the 2011 U-20 World Cup. Their chief opponents were expected to be Spain. They had won the European qualifier, their senior team had just won Euro 2012, and a few of those players also competed at the Olympics: Javi Martínez, Juan Mata and Jordi Alba. Other contenders were the unknown British team – composed of English and Welsh players, featuring veteran star Ryan Giggs – and Mexico, which had placed third at the 2011 U-20 Worlds (runner-up Portugal didn't qualify). Four teams débuted at the Olympics: Belarus, Gabon, Senegal and United Arab Emirates.
The biggest surprise of the preliminaries was the elimination of Spain, which lost twice and drew once. The other favorites did proceed to the quarter-finals, where the hosts lost to South Korea on penalties. Brazil won 3-2 over tiny Honduras after being 1-2 down, while Mexico needed extra time against Senegal. The fourth semi-finalist was Japan, which ousted Egypt.
Both Japan and Mexico had only once before reached the semi-final stage of an Olympic football tournament, both in 1968, when the Japanese beat Mexico for the bronze. This time, the Central Americans proceeded despite an early lead through Japan's Yuki Otsu. South Korea, first-time Olympic semi-finalist, was too weak for the Brazilians, who proceeded into their third Olympic final.
Brazil was heavily favored for the gold, but the Mexicans delivered a sensitive blow only 28 seconds into the game, when Oribe Peralta struck after a defensive error. The Brazilians dominated most of the match, but were unable to seriously threaten the Mexican defense. With 15 minutes left on the clock, Peralta headed in a free kick to all but clinch the title. Hulk scored a late goal to lift the hopes of the Brazilian fans for a few minutes.
The bronze medal match saw South Korea beat Japan 2-0. Amid the celebrations, Korean player Park Jong-Wu held up a banner he received, stating "Dokdo is our territory" – referring to the Liancourt Rocks dispute between the two nations. As the IOC does not permit athletes to make political statements, Park was immediately banned from the medal ceremony. He was later fined and banned for two matches by FIFA, and initially did not receive his Olympic medal. In February 2013 the IOC Executive Board voted to censure Park with a strong warning for inappropriate behavior, but informed the Korean Olympic Committee to deliver a bronze medal to Park "as long as it done without fanfare or publicity of any kind."
Earlier, the Korean team was also involved in another controversy. Following his team's loss to South Korea, Swiss player Michel Morganella called the Koreans a “bunch of mentally handicapped retards” on Twitter, for which he was promptly expelled from the team by his coach.
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