Saturday 25 March 2017

Japan upset Spain in biggest upset at the Olympics

Spanish squad watching

Spain 0 Japan 1

Roy Hay

The 30th Olympiad football tournament had its first major upset when one of the tournament favourites, Spain, was thoroughly upstaged by Japan. The Asian Football Confederation champions thoroughly deserved their one-nil victory, Indeed had Manchester United keeper David de Gea not been in brilliant form the Japanese could have scored half a dozen goals, not all the later stages when the Spaniards were chasing the game. Australians should be very concerned at the way Japan’s huge investment in the game is paying off, not only at senior level but in the younger age groups.

Right from the start the Japanese players did not allow Spain to settle to its fluent passing game. The Spanish defence was too physically strong for Japan in the early phase, causing the players to rush their efforts at times, when a more measured approach might have had better results. Kensuke Nagai, the Nagoya striker, flitted along the front line threatening when in possession and chasing every loose ball at high speed. In the 28th minute he was on the end of a great Japanese move but just could not turn inside Jordi Alba to finish it off. Six minutes later Japan won a corner on the left. It should have been meat and drink to the tall Spanish defence but the ball dropped in the goal area and Yuki Otsu reacted quickest to push the ball past the unprotected de Gea. Hiroshi Kiyotake then got past the keeper but the angle was too acute for his attempt to place the ball in the net and it flew across the area with no one up in support to knock it home. With three minutes to go to the break, Nagai got goalside of Inigo Martinez who wrestled him to the ground. The referee, Mark Geiger of the USA, had little option to show the big defender a red card.

The second half saw the Spanish Under-23s trying to chase the game, something their coach said was unusual for them, though they have lost games in recent times. Despite the influence of Juan Mata of Chelsea and Jordi Alba of Barcelona they were unable to breach the Japanese defence. At the other end Keigo Higashi drew a finger tip save from de Gea, then Nagai slid the ball wide after being set clear by Higashi and Kiyotake. Spanish skipper Javier Martinez came close to rescuing a point with a header from a corner on the left. Alba beat the keeper for once, but the defence scrambled the ball away. As Nagai was on the point of collapse from all the running he had done, he had one more opportunity in the 86th minute but once again de Gea came out to block his shot. So the Japanese and their legion of fans had a stunning victory to celebrate, but the players will not be allowed to get ahead of themselves.

After the match Japanese coach Takashi Sekizuka played down any thought of medals or even qualification from the group. He stressed that the next two games would be equally hard to win though he could hardly conceal his satisfaction with the first match.

Spain have a habit of starting poorly in major tournaments which they have won. They lost to Switzerland in South Africa in their opening game and in Euro2012 they did not hit their straps till after the group stage. Coach Luis Milla congratulated Japan but stressed that his players still had a very positive mentality. Small things matter in tournament games and Spain has to be more consistent if it is to progress. Asked about the increased pressure Spain faces because of recent tournament success, he said that he and his players welcomed that and the Olympics provided a lifetime opportunity for them which they should embrace wholeheartedly.

Meanwhile Team GB took an early lead against Senegal through Craig Bellamy, who might have had a penalty later in the game after being cut in half on the edge of the area. But Senegal rebounded from a corner kick to equalise late in the match. Uruguay recovered from an early goal to the United Arab Emirates to win two-one and take the lead in Group A. Brazil beat Egypt three-two, Belarus got the only goal of the game against New Zealand. Mexico and South Korea played a scoreless draw and Gabon and Switzerland drew one-all.

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