Luis Fernando Tena’s well-organised side, in which over-age players Jose Corona, Carlos Salcido and final matchwinner Oribe Peralta blended well with emerging stars such as Marco Fabian, Javier Aquino and midfield dynamo Jorge Enriquez, were worthy winners. El Tri’s previous best in the competition was a fourth-placed finish on home soil back in 1968, but while their first-placed finish may have been unexpected, it was certainly deserved on the day against an out-of-sorts Brazil team, whose search for a gold medal continues.
Having secured silver in 1984 and 1988, and bronze in 1996 and 2008, hopes were high that Mano Menezes and his talented squad would finally end their Olympic curse. After five wins out of five en route to the Wembley showdown, expectations rose still further, but now they must wait four more years until Rio de Janeiro 2016 for another chance to be crowned champions.
Like the next Olympics, these Games had the benefit of being played out in a football-loving country which proved to be the perfect host. Iconic stadiums such as Wembley, Old Trafford and Hampden Park provided superb playing surfaces, excellent facilities for players and public alike and, crucially, bumper crowds.
Indeed, London 2012 set a new record aggregate attendance of 1,525,134, beating the previous record set at Los Angeles 1984. The only disappointment was the exit of the hosts, Great Britain, at the quarter-final stage, knocked out on penalties by eventual bronze medallists Korea Republic.
The South Koreans reached the semi-final stage with just one outright victory, a 2-1 win over Switzerland in the group stage, during which they also stopped Gabon and the eventual winners Mexico from scoring.
Their 2-0 victory over Asian rivals Japan in the bronze medal match in Cardiff was similarly well-structured, with Hong Myungbo’s side’s superior strength and fitness and ability to convert chances ending their neighbours' hopes of a place on the podium.
London 2012 also gave previously unheralded players a chance to shine. Senegal’s goalscoring star Moussa Konate, who was often supplied by talented midfielder Pape Souare, Japan’s skilful wideman with an eye for goal, Yuki Otsu, and United Arab Emirates’ classy midfielder Omar Abdulrahman, all caught the eye with a series of fine displays.
Meanwhile, players in their prime with a little more experience such as Brazil’s Leandro Damiao, Korea Republic’s Ki Sungyueng and Honduras' Roger Espinoza were important features for their respective teams.
Just as the final finished with the underdogs having their day, this was a competition in which the pre-tournament favourites did not figure particularly well. Spain, who boasted the likes of Jordi Alba, Javier Martinez and Juan Mata failed to score a single goal in the tournament, finishing bottom of a group which included Japan, Honduras and Morocco, while not even Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Nicolas Lodeiro could stop Uruguay’s group-stage exit from Group A.
Instead it was Senegal, blessed with a mixture of pace and power, who made it through to the quarter-finals alongside host nation Great Britain, who topped the group. As was expected, Craig Bellamy was a livewire performer, but Roy Hodgson saw enough in the performances of Steven Caulker, Tom Cleverley and Daniel Sturridge to call them up for the Three Lions' next international match.
Also reaching the last eight were Honduras and Egypt, who will take great heart from their performances. Takashi Sekizuka’s stylish Japan side also went 408 minutes without conceding a goal from the group stage until the semi-finals. Arab-speaking nations Egypt and United Arab Emirates also had moments to remember.
Egypt relished their 3-1 win over Belarus at Hampden Park, while UAE silenced Wembley by equalising against the hosts and dominating a large period of the second half until Stuart Pearce’s side found their stride to run out 3-1 winners.
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter got around all the grounds during the tournament and was effusive in his praise for the hosts. “British fans have always been amongst the most knowledgeable and passionate in the world,” he told FIFA.com.
“They have proved that during the Olympics, mixing with fans from all the many other nations. They have been good natured, respectful of each other and shared a common love of the game. That has created a wonderful atmosphere in Cardiff, Glasgow, London, Newcastle and Coventry and it has been a source of great joy and pride for me and my FIFA colleagues to witness such a successful tournament.”
Fair Play Award: Japan
City of Coventry Stadium, Hampden Park, Millennium Stadium, Old Trafford, St. James' Park, Wembley Stadium.
Total number of goals
76 (average per game: 2.38)
6: Leandro Damiao (BRA)
5: Moussa Konate (SEN)
4: Oribe Peralta (MEX)
Total number of spectators: 1,525,134
Average crowd: 47,660