SALVADOR, Brazil – Japan’s quest for its first Olympic medal in men’s soccer since Mexico City in 1968 will continue for another four years to Tokyo after being eliminated from the Rio Games on Wednesday.
Japan dominated Sweden 1-0 in its final Group B game for its first victory, but with Colombia winning 2-0 over a Nigeria team saving themselves for the quarterfinals, Makoto Teguramori’s side was sent packing.
Shinya Yajima came off the bench to score for Japan, which finished third in the group on four points behind Nigeria (six) and Colombia (five). Sweden was last with one point.
Teguramori wept in the dressing room after the match, the players said.
“I thought we had the advantage and the game unfolded the way we expected it to,” the former Vegalta Sendai boss said. “We may not have achieved our target, but people didn’t expect much from this generation of players. Yet I think we were able to show we can stand toe-to-toe against the world’s best teams.”
Japan reached the bronze-medal game in London four years ago when it lost to South Korea, but a 5-4 opening-game defeat to Nigeria in Manaus left it with an uphill task to reach last eight this time.
Japan suffered from stage fright against Nigeria and was 5-2 down at one point in the second half.
“Looking back on the competition, I feel nothing but frustration,” said midfielder Takumi Minamino. “We had a hard time settling in the first game, and that meant everything.
“We won today, but couldn’t go through because of our result from the first game. People have a right to expect results from us. This is nothing but disappointing.”
After a frustrating first half in which Japan saw far more time on the ball but had nothing to show for it, the young Samurai Blue finally broke the deadlock five minutes past the hour, while at halftime in Sao Paolo, Colombia was up 1-0.
Ryota Oshima, arguably the man of the match with his tireless box-to-box performance, set things up by penetrating the Swedish defense from the left before picking out Yajima on the far side.
Yajma hit past goalkeeper Andreas Linde with his first touch to give Japan the lead. But moments later, Colombia doubled its advantage against a Nigerian team which had already secured its place in the second round after beating Sweden on Sunday.
The Swedes never looked up for it and had it not been for Japan’s lack of a killer instinct, could have easily gone down by three or four. But in the end, neither the performance nor the result mattered with Colombia comfortably dismissing Nigeria.
“We didn’t take any points from the first game and that hurt us,” Japan forward Shinzo Koroki said. “If we had even a draw, we could have gone to the knockout round. It’s tough to accept.
“I wish I could’ve done more. There wasn’t a whole lot of conversation in the dressing room afterward, naturally.”