One match to go for Brazil and only Mexico stand in the way of their first Olympic soccer gold.
Brazil moved a step closer to winning the elusive medal by beating South Korea 3-0 on Tuesday and reaching the final of the men’s Olympic tournament for the first time in 24 years.
They face Mexico, who defeated Japan 3-1 at Wembley Stadium in London to advance to their first Olympic final.
“It’s been a long time since we made it to this final and that shows how hard it is to get here,” Brazil coach Mano Menezes said. “This group deserves a lot of credit and they know that we are closer to finally winning the gold.”
Brazil were the bronze medalists in 2008 in Beijing, but they had not reached a final since the 1988 Seoul Games, when a team led by Romario and Bebeto finished with the silver.
Brazil also won the silver in the 1984 Los Angeles Games and got another bronze in the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Now only the gold will do for a team which came into the London Games with most of the country’s best players and as the favorites.
“The entire team had a huge effort to reach the final,” striker Leandro Damiao said. “We are happy to have made it to the final and we are here to win the gold medal. We are Brazil, we are here for the gold.”
Brazil struggled early against South Korea at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, before taking control of the match after defensive midfielder Romulo opened the scoring with a low shot from inside the area following a pass by playmaker Oscar in the 38th minute.
Damiao scored twice in the 57th and 64th minutes to seal the victory and become the tournament’s leading goalscorer with six goals, surpassing Senegal’s Moussa Konate.
“We had difficulties in the beginning of the match, but the goal came at the right moment and we were able to slowly regain control,” Menezes said. “What matters the most is that we got our fifth straight win and reached our goal to make it to the final.”
South Korea were making their first semi-final appearance at the Olympics.
“It could have been better, but we blew our early chances at the beginning of the game,” South Korea coach Hong Myung-bo said. “The players were tired, but they could have worked a little bit harder. It was hard for us to recover after our previous matches, but hopefully we will be in better shape to play Japan.”
South Korea had eliminated hosts Britain on penalties in the quarter-finals.
Mexico’s previous best showing at the Olympics was at the 1968 Mexico City Games, when the team was beaten in the bronze-medal match 2-0 by Japan, also that nation’s best finish.
They got the win on Tuesday thanks to a swerving long-range strike by Oribe Peralta in the 65th minute, breaking a deadlock after Japan opened the scoring with a shot by Yuki Otsu in the 12th minute and Marco Fabian headed in a corner for Mexico’s equalizer in the 31st minute.
Javier Cortes scored the third goal deep in second-half stoppage-time.
“That’s just it, we are 90 minutes away from history,” Mexico defender Carlos Salcido said. “That is the way we are looking at it.”
Japan face South Korea to try to match the bronze medal they won in Mexico City.
“We had a good start, but then stopped moving,” Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka said.
“Everyone is very disappointed, but we need to get over our emotion and prepare for the next game,” he said.