KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. – Team Japan held its nerve to defeat New Zealand 4-2 on penalties on Saturday and advance to the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics men’s soccer competition.
Captain Maya Yoshida scored the winning spot kick to seal victory in the shootout after neither team was able to score in 120 minutes at Kashima Stadium.
Seeking their first men’s soccer medal at the Olympics since winning bronze at the 1968 Mexico Games, Japan will face Spain in Tuesday’s semis. Spain overcame Ivory Coast 5-2 after extra time thanks to a hattrick from substitute Rafa Mir.
“We would’ve liked to have scored in the 90 minutes but New Zealand are a good team and really gave us a tough game,” said Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu.
“But we tried to keep a clean sheet and go for victory and that has led to this penalty shootout win. It’s going to be a tough game in the semifinals, but we will stick together as a unit and battle it out to the death and try and reach the final.”
Japan should have taken the lead after 10 minutes but Wataru Endo shot wastefully off target after Daichi Hayashi’s cross had picked out the Stuttgart man unmarked at the far post.
Ritsu Doan then got close on the 30-minute mark, firing just wide following good work from the lively Takefusa Kubo.
New Zealand’s first clear-cut chance arrived 10 minutes before the break, but Burnley striker Chris Wood blazed over the crossbar.
Another good opportunity for Japan came with 13 minutes of normal time remaining, but Reo Hatate failed to score on a header and New Zealand goalkeeper Michael Woud then denied substitute Ayase Ueda with a superb save from point-blank range.
After 30 minutes of extra time failed to produce a winner, the game went to a shootout and Ueda, Kou Itakura, Yuta Nakayama and Yoshida all scored to send Japan through.
Japan goalkeeper Kosei Tani saved Liberato Cacace’s effort, while Clayton Lewis also missed for New Zealand.
Japan drew 1-1 with Spain on July 17 in their final warm-up before the Olympics.
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