The last time Mexico advanced beyond the group stage of an Olympic soccer tournament, it won the gold medal. That was 2012 in London.
El Tri is hoping history repeats itself in Tokyo after advancing to the knockout round for just the second time in a quarter-century with a 3-0 win over South Africa on Wednesday. The victory earned Mexico (2-1-0), which finished second in its group to unbeaten Japan, a quarterfinal date Saturday with South Korea.
Playing before 42,000 empty seats in the silent Sapporo Dome, Alexis Vega put Mexico ahead to stay in the 18th minute, although Henry Martin and Uriel Antuna did the work to set up the goal.
After a South African turnover at midfield, the ball went to Martin just outside the center circle. The Club América forward dribbled up the middle of the field before dumping the ball off to Antuna on the right wing while Vega cut toward the left side of the box.
That left South African defender Repo Malepe with two men to mark and when he committed toward Antuna, the former Galaxy winger, who was making his first start in the tournament, unselfishly pushed the ball across the goal to Vega for the easy right-footed finish.
Luis Romo doubled the lead in the final minute of the first half after a poor attempted clearance by Teboho Mokena sent the ball into the middle of the penalty area. The Cruz Azul midfielder collected it on the bounce, settled the ball with his first touch, then beat keeper Ronwen Williams from the edge of the six-yard box.
South Africa lost Malepe, its captain, in the 58th minute to a red card for a hard challenge that left Martin limping. Martin needed just two minutes to get his revenge, beating Williams cleanly with a right-footed shot from the top of the box.
South Korea, the bronze medalists in London in 2012 and a quarterfinalist five years ago in Brazil, won Group B by pounding Honduras 6-0 in its first-round finale Wednesday. South Korea has scored a tournament-high 10 goals in three games while conceding just once.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.