VOLOS, Greece – Yoshito Okubo scored a 37th-minute winner as already-eliminated Japan restored a little pride by beating Ghana 1-0 in their final match at the Athens Games, a result that knocked the Africans out of the competition.
Ghana finished with four points from two games behind second-placed Italy, which lost to Group B winner Paraguay 1-0 but advanced to the quarterfinals by virtue of having scored more goals than the Africans.
Japan had come into the Games with high hopes of claiming its first medal since winning bronze at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 but those hopes were dashed after defeats by Paraguay and Italy in its first two games.
With Masakuni Yamamoto’s men determined to go out on a winning note, Okubo fired straight at George Owu in the 13th minute as the Japanese went in search of an early goal.
The Cerezo Osaka forward, who played a pivotal role in helping Japan qualify for Athens, should have scored on the half-hour mark.
Yuki Abe unleashed a 30-meter drive that Owu saved well and the rebound fell to Okubo, who was denied by the Ghana goalkeeper once more.
Okubo finally made the breakthrough to score what proved to be the winner when he headed home a deep pass from Naoya Kikuchi, this time with Owu caught out.
“We kept Ghana’s players in check in midfield and we had control of the game. Our stability throughout the game and the tiredness of Ghana’s players were the key factors,” said Japan coach Yamamoto.
Ghana pressed for an equalizer and substitute Kwadwo Poku almost grabbed a late goal but his angled shot was turned around the post by Japan ‘keeper Hitoshi Sogahata.
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