NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND – Japan will take on Spain with a win in hand after Yuki Otsu fired a gorgeous late volley in a 2-1 victory over Mexico on Saturday.
Otsu, who came on for Kensuke Nagai in the 70th minute, gave Japan its second win in as many games on English soil as Takashi Sekizuka’s side wrapped up Olympic preparations ahead of Thursday’s opener against Spain in Glasgow.
Japan is trying to medal in men’s soccer for the first time since the 1968 Mexico Games. Morocco and Honduras are also in its group.
“The team won, I scored. It’s good to be going into the Spain game like this,” Otsu said. “There’s a huge difference between winning and losing your last warmup for the Olympics.
“I think any player will tell you he wants to start rather than be on the bench. It was nice to be able to show what I could today.”
The Mexicans won the Toulon Tournament in May, in which Japan was eliminated in the first round after conceding seven goals in three games.
Mexico has been drawn with South Korea, Gabon and Switzerland for the group phase of the competition.
“This isn’t a bad way to be going into the tournament,” Sekizuka said. “Mexico are a very tough team who won the title at Toulon. They were someone we definitely wanted to play before facing a team like Spain.”
Three days after edging Belarus at the home of former European champion Nottingham Forest, Japan got off to a perfect start, moving in front not even a minute into the match.
Sekizuka’s men capitalized on a blatant mistake by Mexico midfielder Hector Herrera, who passed right to Hiroshi Kiyotake in his own half.
Kiyotake keyed the break by unleashing Nagoya Grampus speedster Nagai down the right wing for the cut-back to Keigo Higashi, who swept home from point-blank range.
But the Mexicans wasted no time adjusting, controlling the game from that point on and equalizing in the 39th minute through Chivas striker Marco Fabian, who hit the back of the net with authority from 25 meters out.
Japan didn’t see a whole lot of time on the ball, sitting back to try to hit Mexico on the break — perhaps as practice for the game against Spain, favorite for the tournament alongside Brazil.
With Mexico creating a series of chances — Herrera fired over the bar from inside the six-yard box shortly before the hour — Japan was fortunate it was never down.
After Tottenham Hotspur’s Giovani dos Santos missed a great counterattacking opportunity, Kenyu Sugimoto, who scored the winner in the Belarus game, came off the bench in the 86th minute.
One minute later, the 19-year-old Sugimoto headed down a cross for Otsu, who turned on the ball from the edge of the box to give Japan the win.
Ajax not taking Miyaichi
Ajax Amsterdam manager Frank De Boer on Saturday said that teenage Arsenal forward Ryo Miyaichi was no longer a candidate to join the Dutch League champions.
Speaking to Eredivisie Live, a Dutch League video website, De Boer confirmed he had at one point considered Miyaichi, but that time is gone.
“In my opinion, he (Miyaichi) is not an option anymore,” De Boer said of the club’s interest in acquiring a winger.
De Boer was responding to a same day story in the newspaper Der Telegraaf in which former Arsenal star Marc Overmars asserted Ajax was interested in acquiring the Japanese speedster on loan.