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Europeo of the week: Hirving Lozano

Liga MX
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Europeo of the week: Hector Herrera

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 By Tom Marshall

Korea Republic showdown sink or swim time for Mexico at the Olympics

Mexico's Olympic squad is in Brasilia for its final Group C match at Rio 2016 against Korea Republic.

Victory is a must for El Tri if it is to book a place in the quarterfinal of the men's football tournament.

Here are three things you need to know:

1. No room for mistakes for El Tri

The main question hanging over this Mexican Olympic team in Brazil has been whether it can rekindle the kind of magic that led El Tri to victory over a Neymar-led Brazil in Wembley to win gold four years ago in London.

One of the subplots is that this young Mexico side is attempting to restore confidence in the nation's football following the full national team's devastating 7-0 loss to Chile in the Copa America Centenario quarterfinal in June.

Part of the answer to both questions will come against Korea Republic: It's sink or swim time for Mexico at the Olympics. A victory over Korea Republic will see El Tri top Group C to set up a winnable quarterfinal against Argentina or Honduras.

A draw is unlikely to be enough should Germany thrash Fiji, as expected, and a loss will see the reigning Olympic champion head home without so much as a whimper, four years on from arguably Mexican football's biggest achievement.

The players, coach Raul "Potro" Gutierrez, the federation's youth program and Mexican football in general need a boost of confidence. A loss would bring a national outcry and another damaging inquest into the state of the game.

Can Mexico get the three points it needs to advance to the quarterfinals at Rio 2016?

Victory will not come easily. Korea Republic has been one of the most impressive teams so far at Rio 2016. The Asian nation came within seconds of defeating Germany, but had to settle for a 3-3 draw after the Germans netted with a deflected free kick in second-half injury time. In its opening game, Korea Republic scored an incredible seven goals in 27 second half minutes to defeat minnows Fiji 8-0.

Mexico, on the other hand, were 1-0 down at half-time against Fiji after a disappointing display and even though El Tri turned it around to win 5-1, the victory came at a high price, with Oribe Peralta and Rodolfo Pizarro both picking up injuries that led to them returning to Mexico.

2. How will the injuries affect tactics and morale?

The losses of Peralta (fractured bone in nose) and Pizarro (fractured right fibula) will be a huge blow to Gutierrez as he prepares for the crunch Korea Republic match. They were two of Mexico's best players at the Rio Games and inked-in starters.

Peralta wore the captain's armband in Mexico's first two games, brought the experience of winning gold at London 2012 and is an in-form goal-scorer. His replacement Carlos Fierro is more of a winger and hasn't even been featuring regularly for Queretaro.

Pizarro was almost as important as Peralta. The versatile Pachuca player was featuring on the wings, but was one of the main inspirations behind the Tuzos' title win last season playing predominantly as a No. 10.

His loss reduces the options for Gutierrez in terms of changing things up tactically, although replacement Raul Lopez may have a shot at starting in place of the underwhelming Jose Javier Abella at right-back.

Up front, if Gutierrez sticks with a 4-4-2, it appears Houston Dynamo striker Erick "Cubo" Torres would come in to partner Marco Bueno. On the wing, Carlos Cisneros is the obvious option to replace Pizarro, although the fact Arturo "Ponchito" Gonzalez came on and did so well against Fiji means Gutierrez has a difficult decision to make.

There is no doubt Mexico is worse off without Pizarro and Peralta, but the reaction from the camp has been strong and there is a sense that the camp will use the disappointment of two players getting seriously injured as a rallying call. Perhaps, it may also have drilled into the rest of the players just how fragile and precious the Olympic dream really is.

"This makes us stronger," was the message from center-back Carlos Salcedo, while one after another the rest of the players sent public statements wishing Peralta and Pizarro luck.


3. Can Lozano provide the attacking impetus?

With Peralta and Pizarro gone, Mexico badly needs winger Hirving Lozano to recapture the kind of form that has seen him linked with European giants.

Lozano has lit up the Liga MX with some scintillating performances for Pachuca this calendar year, but has fallen flat so far at Rio 2016. The 21-year-old failed to convert two fairly easy chances that could've helped Mexico to victory over Germany.

It may have been the pressure of the occasion or maybe there is a slight injury -- there have been reports of him using ice on his left leg. But when Gutierrez took Lozano off at half-time against Fiji with the team down, there was no doubting the message: It was a non-so-subtle kick up the behind from Gutierrez towards a player Mexico desperately needs to find form against Korea Republic.

The onus for Lozano isn't now on impressing on-looking scouts, but on providing more of a goal-threat with Peralta and Pizarro gone.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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