The men’s Olympic soccer semifinals are now set with home nation Japan up against Spain in Saitama and Mexico taking on Brazil in Kashima on Tuesday.
The South Americans are the defending champions while the Japanese are on home soil, the Spanish possess arguably the deepest and most talented squad, and Mexico have a group almost exclusively formed within their domestic league.
Brazil, Spain, and Mexico have each won gold once with the Selecao and El Tri the two previous winners while Japan’s best-ever Olympic showing was a bronze medal in 1968 with a fourth place to their name as well from 2012.
We take a look at the players who have been making a difference so far for the semifinalists.
Japan: Takefusa Kubo
Until the penalty shootout win over New Zealand, the Real Madrid man had scored in every single Olympics match so far with strikes against South Africa, Mexico and France in Group A.
Kubo, 20, was silenced by the OlyWhites’ resolute defense but he very much remains the main man for Hajime Moriyasu’s side as they look to shut out Spain en route to the final.
Captain Maya Yoshida deserves a mention as he has marshalled a tight back line and converted the clinching penalty in Kashima, but simply keeping La Rojita at bay on Tuesday might not be enough to advance.
Spain: Mikel Oyarzabal and Rafa Mir
Up against Yoshida and the Japanese rearguard will be the likes of Mikel Oyarzabal and Rafa Mir who account for five of Spain’s goal so far after both were on target against the Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals.
The Real Sociedad star has struck twice while the Wolverhampton Wanderers talent scored a hat-trick as a substitute in Rifu and becomes the first player since Carlos Teves in 2004 to score a knockout phase treble.
If the Spanish are to go further and start delivering on their potential, Oyarzabal and Mir could be key figures for Luis de la Fuente’s men.
Mexico: Sebastian Cordova and Henry Martin
El Tri’s results have been more hit than miss so far and goals are not in short supply after they hit 14 and counting for these Games. But there has been no single source for those goals as two players have three each and three are on two apiece.
Sebastian Cordova and Henry Martin of Club America are the two players on three goals while Santos Laguna’s Eduardo Aguirre, Cruz Azul’s Luis Romo and CD Guadalajara’s Alexis Vega all have a pair each.
The America pair have scored against France, South Africa, and South Korea with Roberto Alvarado the scorer as they narrowly lost out to Japan in Group A.
While the danger for Brazil could come from elsewhere too, Cordova or Martin are a good bet to play an important role in any positive result for the Mexicans.
The Everton man leads the scoring charts after his hat-trick against Germany and brace against Saudi Arabia and with his record of scoring once every two games, he could be about to let rip against Mexico.
Andre-Pierre Gignac and Hwang Ui-jo are out on four goals and will pose no further threats to his Golden Boot chances so one or two more should secure it for the 24-year-old.
Matheus Cunha is catching up with his teammate in importance after scoring against both Egypt and the Saudis, but Richarlison is still the Selecao’s key outlet for goals at present.