Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu’s halftime message for his players during their Olympic opener was simple.
Keep creating chances.
Japan gave itself a number of opportunities against South Africa and it finally paid off with a goal by Takefusa Kubo in the 71st minute of a 1-0 victory on Thursday night at Tokyo Stadium.
“We able to create a lot of chances for ourselves in the second half and I told the players to keep making chances to give us the best opportunity to score goals,” Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu said.
With Japan looking to take the lead late, Kubo collected a pass on the right side, turned and fired a shot past a South African player’s outstretched leg and past diving goalkeeper Ronwen Williams. The ball struck the side post and ricocheted into the back of the net.
The Samurai Blue were forced to survive a couple of scares near the end of the match but held on for the win.
“First of all it was a difficult first game and I told the players all of their hard work is what led to this result,” Moriyasu said.
There was no guarantee the match would be played when the day began after 18 South African players were deemed as close contacts to two players and an official who tested positive for COVID-19, organizers announced Monday.
South Africa needed to have enough players test negative within six hours of the match in order for the game to go forward. The announcement the match would be played as scheduled was delivered about two hours before kickoff.
“Clearly you could see we were in a very difficult situation,” South Africa coach David Notoane said. “We couldn’t train, we only started our first training session on Monday. We’re still in isolation. It’s very difficult mentally to be stuck inside your room, only go out to get foot and only go out to having training.”
Japan, despite not knowing for sure if the game would happen, maintained its focus.
“Even with the situation with the South African team, the players were not distracted,” Moriyasu said.
The South Africans went into the game with a defensive mindset against Japan, which dominated possession. In the end. it wasn’t enough to prevent Japan from claiming the victory.
“The plan worked until Kubo showed up,” Notoane said.
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