NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND – Kensuke Nagai struck a late winner as Japan reached the quarterfinals of the Olympics for the first time in three attempts at the London Games on Sunday with a 1-0 defeat of Morocco.
A tightly contested match looked to be heading for a stalemate, but the fleet-footed Nagai raced onto a pass from Hiroshi Kiyotake and lobbed the ball over advancing goalkeeper Mohamed Amsif in the 84th minute to make it two wins out of two for Japan following its shock opening defeat of Spain.
The result qualified Japan for the last eight with a game to spare against Honduras in Coventry.
“I’m delighted we have been able to advance to the knockout stage by winning the match. It is a big passing point to get out of the group phase that has strong teams in it,” said Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka.
“I am very satisfied with the result and all credit to the players. We could not start the game as well as we did in our first game but we stayed calm and played our game. Morocco are strong both individually and as a team so it took us a bit of time to get into the game but the defense dug in well for the 90 minutes.”
Japan has not medaled in men’s soccer since the 1968 Mexico Games, where it won a bronze, and has not made it out of the group phase since Sydney 12 years ago.
At Sydney 2000, Hidetoshi Nakata hit the post in the shootout as Japan went out in the quarterfinals after a 2-2 draw with the United States in Adelaide.
At the last Olympics in Beijing, Japan lost all three games in the first round under Yasuharu Sorimachi.
Spain crashes out
Spain suffered a rare soccer setback, going out of the men’s Olympic tournament on Sunday after losing 1-0 to Honduras, while Brazil booked its place in the quarterfinals a victory.
In the second round of group matches, host Britain got its campaign back on track with a 3-1 victory over United Arab Emirates that knocked the Middle Eastern team out of the tournament. Mexico rebounded from a first-round loss by beating Gabon 2-0. Two-time Olympic champion Uruguay lost 2-0 to Senegal. Egypt played a to 1-1 draw against New Zealand, while South Korea beat Switzerland 2-1.
Spain was looking to add an Olympic gold to the World Cup and European Championship titles held by the country’s full national team. The Olympic football tournament is an under-23 competition with three older players allowed in each 18-man squad.
But after losing to Japan in its opening game, Spain endured a second straight disappointment.
Honduras forward Jerry Bengtson scored in the seventh minute, jumping over a defender to power in a header past Spain goalkeeper David De Gea. Spain had a penalty claim in the 80th when TV replays appeared to show Adrian Lopez being pushed over by Arnold Peralta.
“As you can imagine everyone is sad, everyone is disappointed,” said coach Luis Milla. “All that was lacking today was the goal. I don’t want to say too much, but we feel there should have been a penalty.”