VOLOS, Greece – Japan was sent tumbling out of the men’s Olympic soccer competition Sunday after a 3-2 defeat to European U-21 champion Italy in Group B at the Athens Games.
Two superb goals inside the first eight minutes from Daniele de Rossi and Parma ace Alberto Gilardino put the Italians on their way and after Japan replied through Yuki Abe, Gilardino doubled his tally late in the first half.
Japan battled back and scored through Daiki Takamatsu in second-half stoppage time, but it proved to be too little too late for Masakuni Yamamoto’s men.
Japan had come into the tournament with the aim of capturing a medal for the first time since taking bronze at the Mexico Olympics in 1968, but after losing its opening game 4-3 to Paraguay, it will now be playing for pride in its final game against Ghana on Wednesday.
“Tonight’s result is obviously disappointing, but it is important that the players get over it and become stronger,” said coach Yamamoto after the match. “This experience will serve them well for the future and I want to thank the players for their effort.”
Italy has four points from two games along with Ghana, which defeated Paraguay 2-1 in the evening’s other Group B match.
Italy stunned Japan when it took the lead with three minutes gone with arguably the goal of the tournament so far.
Giuseppe Sculli beat Yuhei Tokunaga to the byline and whipped over a cross from the left for di Rossi to score with an acrobatic overhead kick.
Five minutes later Gilardino, who notched 23 goals in the Italian Serie A last season, then made it two when he picked up a deep pass and turned defender Teruyuki Moniwa inside out before poking the ball home.
JEF United Ichihara midfielder Abe scored with a free-kick David Beckham would have been proud of on 21 minutes only for Gilardino to restore the Italian’s two-goal cushion with a well-taken header nine minutes before the break.
Despite the setback, Yamamoto’s men continued to create plenty of chances but were unable to find a killer touch in the final third of the pitch.
Yoshito Okubo forced a fine save from Ivan Pelizzoli and Abe went close with a long-range effort in first-half injury time.
Yamamoto brought on Tatsuya Tanaka in a bid to give Japan extra bite up front and Daisuke Matsui missed a glorious chance to pull Japan back into the game at the start of the second period when he hesitated a fraction too long to shoot after being put clean through.
Takamatsu finally made the breakthrough when he headed home a free-kick from Abe at the far post, but the goal proved to be little more than a consolation.
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