Japan Under-23 manager Takashi Sekizuka allowed himself a moment to savor qualification for the London Olympic men’s soccer tournament on Wednesday night, but the 51-year-old insists the real work begins now.
Japan beat Bahrain 2-0 at National Stadium to clinch a fifth consecutive appearance at the Summer Games, topping Group C three points ahead of nearest rival Syria.
Syria’s 3-0 win over Malaysia meant Sekizuka’s side could have lost by a narrow margin and still qualified for the July 26-Aug. 11 tournament, but the manager was taking nothing for granted until the final whistle made it official.
“It feels great to clinch qualification in the final game at National Stadium,” Sekizuka said. “The Asian qualifiers are very difficult to get out of, and we all feel a real sense of achievement that we have been able to do so.
“Now that we’ve qualified we have to turn our attentions to the tournament itself and get ready to show what we can do there. But for the time being it really feels like we have achieved something.”
Japan struggled to break down the cautious Bahrainis in a sluggish first half, but two goals in the space of four second-half minutes from Takahiro Ogihara and Hiroshi Kiyotake put the result beyond doubt.
Sekizuka fielded an aggressive lineup despite the onus being on the visitors to attack, and striker Yuki Otsu was pleased that his manager’s instincts were vindicated.
“We’ve achieved what we were aiming for, so now we are very happy,” the Borussia Monchengladbach forward said. “We knew that a draw would have been enough, but the manager and the players all wanted to go through with a win. Of course I wanted to score, but I’m just happy that we qualified.
“Now that we have made it we have to show what we can do when the competition starts. We have to all pull together and give it our best shot.”
Japan’s road to London was not always smooth, with a 2-1 defeat away to Syria early in February clouding the waters before a 4-0 rout away to Malaysia later in the month set the campaign back on track.
Goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda was at fault for the first of Syria’s goals on neutral ground in Jordan, but the FC Tokyo player refused to let it weigh on his mind.
“The Syria game was very disappointing, but it was very important that we were able to turn things around,” said Gonda. “It’s not just about the good times but the bad times too. We’ve been fighting for the chance to play on the world stage and now we’ve earned it.”
Olympic teams’ lack of jurisdiction in forcing the release of players from their clubs meant Sekizuka relied on a largely domestic squad for the qualifiers.
Japan to face Brazil
Japan will play five-time world champion Brazil in a friendly international in the Polish city of Wroclaw on Oct. 16, Reuters reported Tuesday.
Reuters quoted Wroclaw mayor Rafal Dutkiewicz as saying on the city stadium’s official website, “Japan and Brazil want to play in Europe and we are lucky enough to be (located) right in between.”
“We bet that after the Euro emotions in June there will still be hunger for more spectacular matches,” he said.
Wroclaw is one of the four cities in Poland that will stage matches during Euro 2012.
Bayern routs Basel
Germany striker Mario Gomez scored four goals, leading Bayern Munich into the Champions League quarterfinals Tuesday with a 7-0 rout of FC Basel.
A week after Lionel Messi became the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match, Gomez became the eighth to hit four as Bayern overcame a 1-0 first-leg deficit to advance 7-1.
Arjen Robben also scored twice for Bayern, which was joined in the next round by Marseille despite the French club’s 2-1 defeat at Inter Milan.