Yoshito Okubo scored twice as Japan’s Under-23s secured a place at this summer’s Athens Olympics with a comfortable 3-0 win over 10-man United Arab Emirates in the final round of Asian Zone Group B qualifying matches on Thursday evening.
Defender Daisuke Nasu marked his return from suspension by heading Japan into the lead after 12 minutes and senior national team striker Okubo doubled the advantage to put the host firmly in control shortly before halftime at National Stadium.
Okubo, who scored the match winner in Japan’s 2-1 victory over Lebanon on Tuesday, then put the game out of reach with his second of the night two minutes after the interval, ensuring Japan a third straight Olympic appearance.
“The players weren’t in their best condition from (the away legs) in the UAE but all of them tried really hard,” said delighted Japan coach Masakuni Yamamoto after the match.
“I thought we’d be able to make it (to Athens) and we battled all the way to the end. The road ahead will be tough for us now but I’m looking forward to Greece,” he added.
Japan finished top of the round-robin group on 13 points from six games, two points ahead of Bahrain, which drew 1-1 with Lebanon in the evening’s other game across town at Nishigaoka Stadium. The UAE finished third with winless Lebanon bottom.
Boosted by the return of Nasu and Urawa Reds duo Tatsuya Tanaka and Keita Suzuki, Japan signaled its intentions early on in front of an expectant crowd of over 54,000 and Teruyuki Moniwa saw a header go just over the crossbar after eight minutes.
Japan took the lead soon after as dead-ball specialist Yuki Abe, who set Yamamoto’s men on their way to Tuesday’s win, sent over a pinpoint free-kick from the left for Nasu to power past Mohammed Gholom.
JEF United Ichihara star Abe was again the provider for Japan’s second, his low corner sweeping through a mass of bodies for Okubo to poke the ball home from close range.
With the second half just two minutes old, Okubo made it three and sealed the win when he scrambled home after the UAE was unable to clear the rebound from the striker’s initial shot that came crashing down off the crossbar.
“These games have been tough but I think all the boys really played for each other and it’s very pleasing to get this kind of result,” said Okubo.
“It’s a good thing that I stayed patient (after being rested for the away legs in Abu Dhabi),” said Okubo. “Now I want to make sure I deliver the goods in Athens.”
The UAE was reduced to 10 men in the 57th minute when Ismail Mattar was sent off for his second bookable offense after a foul on Okubo.
The top team from each of the other two qualifying groups will book tickets to the Olympics. A total of 36 teams entered the Asian qualifying competition at the first-round stage, which began in April last year.
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