ATHENS – Japan advanced to the quarterfinals of the Olympics women’s soccer tournament for the first time Saturday, despite going down 1-0 to Nigeria in their Group E clash at the Athens Games.
Eiji Ueda’s side was unable to reproduce the heroics which saw it beat European powerhouse Sweden 1-0 in their opening game on Thursday and was sunk by a 55th-minute goal from Vera Okolo.
The three points picked up against the Swedes, however, proved to be enough to see Japan into the last eight as it guaranteed it a better record than the third-place team in Group F.
Asian rival China, which lost 8-0 to Germany in their opening match, could only manage a 1-1 draw with Mexico in a game being played at the same time, and finished with just one point from two games in Group F.
The top three teams from Group G and the top two teams from E and F advance to the quarterfinals, with the third-place team with the best record from E or F also moving into the last eight.
Japan and Nigeria have three points each, with the Africans still to face the Swedes in the final Group E game on Tuesday.
Japan made a nervy start at Karaiskaki Stadium with the Africans making all the early running, but Eriko Arakawa, the hero in Thursday’s win, went close when she forced Precious Dede into a save from a tight angle after 12 minutes.
At the other end, Perpetua Nkwocha kept the Japanese defense on its toes and goalkeeper Nozomi Yamago did well to turn a rasping shot from the striker over the crossbar just before the half-hour mark.
Nkwocha continued to torment Japan and created the Africans’ winner when she outpaced her marker on the right flank and pulled the ball back for Okolo to slot into the far corner.
Japan pressed forward in search of an equalizer and with gaps opening up at the back, Nigeria twice failed to capitalize on the counter with Okolo shooting wide and Stella Mbachu also missing the target from a promising position.
Ueda’s team wasted a host of chances after going behind, the best falling to Mio Otani, who contrived to send a free header over the bar after good work from Arakawa in the 87th minute.
Despite the defeat, coach Ueda was satisfied with the way his team played, despite losing influential midfielder Tomomi Miyamoto to injury midway through the first half.
“We might have lost but we certainly didn’t play badly,” said Ueda. “Losing Miyamoto hurt us, but our opponents played extremely well.”
ATHENS (Kyodo) Rebounding from a hitless loss to Australia on Saturday, the Japanese softball team clobbered error-prone Taiwan with 13 hits and Hiroko Sakai tossed a two-hit shutout for a 6-0 victory at the Athens Olympics on Sunday.
Haruka Saito opened the scoring with an RBI single to left in the first inning and her teammates produced four runs on five hits and three errors in the second at Olympic Softball Stadium. Noriko Yamaji, who was 3-for-3, doubled home another run in the fifth.
Sakai allowed only two singles while striking out one over seven innings for a complete-game shutout in her first start at an Olympics.
Japan, which won the silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Games, has a 1-1 record in the preliminary round, from which the top four of eight teams advance into the knockout stage after a round-robin contest.
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