Matsumoto, Nagano Pref. – Japan thrashed South Africa 4-1 in its Rio Olympic send-off led by a first-half brace by Shoya Nakajima on Wednesday.
South Africa’s Gift Motupa opened the scoring with a penalty midway through the first half, but Japan hit back with three goals, two of them by Nakajima, in the last nine minutes of the half to completely turn the game around at Matsumotodaira Park Stadium in Nagano Prefecture.
Shinya Yajima netted in between Nakajima, and new Arsenal target Takuma Asano also struck shortly after the interval to hand Japan one last home win ahead of the Aug. 4-20 Olympic soccer competition, where the team has been drawn with Nigeria, Colombia and Sweden in the group phase.
Japan, which will be trying to medal in men’s soccer for the first time since Mexico 1968, faces Brazil in Goiania on July 30 in its final warmup before launching its Olympic campaign on Aug. 4 against Nigeria in Manaus.
Coach Makoto Teguramori will name his 18 for Rio de Janeiro on Friday.
“South Africa traveled a long distance for this game and condition-wise Japan were on top. We got a big win at home but we have to roll up our sleeves for the Olympics,” said Teguramori.
Teguramori also said he hopes Japan can perform well in Rio to bring cheer to Kumamoto Prefecture, which was rocked in April by a series of powerful earthquakes that claimed nearly 50 lives.
“Nadeshiko Japan became the women’s world champions after the 2011 (Tohoku) earthquake struck. They won’t be at the Games this time, but we’ll try to give people courage in the year Kumamoto Prefecture was struck by another quake.”
Japan allowed the visitors to grab the lead after 29 minutes, when defender Masashi Kamekawa clumsily handled in his area, forcing the referee to point to the spot. Motupa stepped up, converting with ease past Masatoshi Kushibiki.
The hosts woke up thanks to the deficit, pulling level in the 37th minute after a finely woven sequence started by Yajima and finished by Nakajima, the MVP of the Asian Under-23 Championship through which Japan qualified for its sixth successive Olympics.
Japan went ahead on 45 minutes, Yajima capping off a one-two with right-back Sei Muroya by netting off the crossbar. A minute later, Asano robbed the South African defense to set up Nakajima for his second of the night, a close-range header that all but decided the game.
“That (the first goal) was a team goal. Ryota (Oshima) made the pass for it and I am grateful for that. I don’t get many headers and it was a great ball in (for the second goal),” said Nakajima.
“I tried really hard for the sake of the staff that have treated my (right knee) injury and for the players that are not fit. Japan winning was the main thing and I want to try hard every day to help us get a medal.”
Teguramori’s men carried on in the second half, Asano registering on the scoresheet in the 48th minute after scraping up a loose ball to hit beyond the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Jody February.
“I wanted to contribute to a win by scoring for the fans that have come out and I am glad I was able to do that. This was the last game (at home) for the Under-23s and we wanted to make sure we won and are happy we did,” said Asano.
“I wanted to do well today to stake a claim for a place in the team (for Rio). I don’t know whether I did that but I am happy that I scored.”
Though they had plenty of time to claw back in the game, the three-goal gap was simply too much for Bafana Bafana to overcome with fatigue and jetlag appearing to set in for a team that only arrived from South Africa two days earlier.