Mexico's Olympic gold defense comes crashing down with group-stage exit
Mexico's defense of the Olympic men's football title is over, with El Tri losing 1-0 against Korea Republic in the final Group C game in Brasilia on Wednesday.
The result sees Korea top Group C and go on to face Honduras on Aug. 13 in Belo Horizonte. Germany -- 10-0 winners against Fiji in Wednesday's other Group C match -- will play Portugal in Brasilia on the same day.
Here are three takes from a miserable afternoon for Mexican soccer.
1. Mexico crashes out
The Rio Olympic Games were supposed to be the remedy to help cure the hangover from Mexico's devastating 7-0 loss against Chile in the Copa America Centenario. In the end, El Tri exits the tournament at the group stage four years on from gold at London 2012 to wrap up a summer of lows for the Mexican game.
Mexico may have been the better team for long periods against Korea Republic, but this was an El Tri side that was blunt in attack, efficient but lacking ideas in midfield, and unable to produce in defense when it mattered most.
When Korea Republic's Chang-Hoon Kwon waltzed through the Mexican defense -- which provided very little by way of resistance -- and netted the crucial goal in the 77th minute it was the Asian nation's first shot on target. It was also the culmination of a well-prepared and executed plan to stifle Mexico and get the draw or win that Korea Republic needed to guarantee its place in the quarterfinals.
It may have seemed a fluke, but El Tri cannot point to easy chances missed, poor refereeing decisions or bad luck. Mexico simply didn't have the answers to the questions the opposition posed by clogging up the midfield and giving very little space to operate.
The first half was a largely dull affair, with Mexico maintaining 66 percent of possession but failing to create much with it. This was the story of the game.
Erick "Cubo" Torres put Erick Gutierrez through in the 29th minute for a half chance and Marco Bueno had a shot on goal in the 11th minute. Mexico pressed with increased intensity after the break, with Carlos Cisneros hitting the post in the 62nd minute and shooting just over from a free kick minutes later.
There was very little to write about Korea Republic's attacking exploits, but that isn't the point. Mexico's job was to score goals and it failed to do it.
2. Gutierrez's gamble to drop Lozano backfires
Hirving Lozano was taken off at half-time of Mexico's 5-1 victory against Fiji and the team improved. Against Korea Republic, coach Gutierrez's decision to leave him on the bench was a bold one. Lozano may not have been at his best, but surely having the best young Mexican prospect on the pitch in a crucial game would've been the best option.
Pachuca winger Lozano -- linked with a move to Europe this summer -- came onto the pitch to replace Arturo "Ponchito" Gonzalez five minutes after the break with the score level at 0-0 but cut a frustrated and almost angry figure, a world away from the carefree and devastating attacker Liga MX fans are used to seeing.
Lozano failed to track back adequately for the opposition's goal and was sent off in second-half injury time for a completely needless push. The attitude can't have pleased any clubs thinking of signing the 21-year-old.
Lozano's omission was one of four changes Gutierrez made to the starting XI. Jose Javier Abella was dropped for the impressive Erick Aguirre at right-back, while Torres replaced the injured Oribe Peralta and Cisneros came in for Rodolfo Pizarro.
It's tempting to think that this Mexico team would have defeated Korea Republic with Pizarro and Peralta on the pitch. It was certainly unfortunate that coach Raul Gutierrez wasn't able to count on two of Mexico's best players, but the game was there to win without them.
3. Exit caps a nightmare summer
And so it falls to Honduras to represent CONCACAF in the quarterfinals of Rio 2016. Los Catrachos drew 1-1 against Argentina earlier on Wednesday to knock out the South America giant and record a memorable result for the CONCACAF nation. It was the type of gutsy performance El Tri couldn't conjure.
For Mexico, a period of reflection and anger will follow. The memories of the 7-0 defeat will be brought to the surface once again and although these were two different teams, the idea was that the Olympic side would put on a performance to show that the players are mentality and physically ready to move up to the full national team. That argument is much weaker after the team crashed out after only three games at Rio 2016.
The counterargument will be that Mexico lost control in the first half of victory over Fiji, with El Tri down 1-0 at half-time to a mainly amateur side. The wider angle will show that young Mexican players aren't getting enough opportunities in the Liga MX and that the pool of players Gutierrez had to pick from was much smaller than it should be.
In the end, however, the pressure game was against Korea Republic and Mexico's players and management fell short in a match that was very winnable.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.