Japan wins group with scoreless draw

by Gus Fielding

KYODO

Japan drew 0-0 with Honduras on Wednesday and got the point it needed to finish on top of Group D and avoid a quarterfinal meeting with Brazil at the London Games.

Takashi Sekizuka’s side will meet Group C runnerup Egypt in the last eight in Manchester on Saturday after finishing top with seven points from three first-round games.

Egypt beat Belarus 3-1 to finish second on four points, behind Brazil, which made it three wins out of three with a 3-0 defeat of New Zealand. Honduras placed second in Group D and meets Brazil in Newcastle.

“Our main aim was to finish top of the group and the players were able to concentrate well. Having so many Japanese fans here cheering us on really helped us,” said Sekizuka.

Japan will be looking to avenge a 3-2 defeat to Egypt in a pre-Olympic warmup at the Toulon Tournament in France in May.

“We got turned over (by Egypt) in our third match at that tournament. This is also a tournament and we must prepare well to try and beat them in this winner-take-all match. We do have confidence and we will pull together and show a united front. Every game will be crucial now.”

Japan has not medaled in men’s soccer since the 1968 Mexico Games, where it won a bronze, and is in the last eight for the first time since the Sydney Games 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.

With one eye on the quarterfinals, Sekizuka rang the changes and handed Olympic debuts to Hoffenheim midfielder Takashi Usami and Taisuke Muramatsu of Shimizu S-Pulse.

Mexican waves moving around the ground provided the main highlight of a dreary first half that failed to come to life until the 39th minute, when Jerry Bengtson forced a good save from underemployed Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda.

Gonda then did well to get down and stop a Maynor Figueroa free kick that took a wicked deflection off Jose Velasquez three minutes before the interval.

Japan’s only chance in the first half had come through Yuki Otsu and in a lively opening to the second period, the Borussia Monchengladbach striker let fly from distance with a shot that crept just over the bar.