Associated Press, Published August 04 2012
Japan reaches soccer semifinals with 3-0 win over EgyptMANCHESTER, England — Japan's football team has a tradition of politely bowing toward the crowd after its games.
After Saturday's victory at Old Trafford, taking a bow was certainly in order.
Japan advanced to its first Olympic semifinal in 44 years by beating Egypt 3-0 in the quarterfinals, giving it a chance to improve on the bronze it won in 1968.
"We are now in the position to challenge the world," Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka said. "The team is getting stronger and stronger game by game."
Japan will face the winner of the Mexico-Senegal quarterfinal played later Saturday in London.
The match at Old Trafford in front of more than 70,000 fans was another solid display from the Japanese, who haven't conceded a goal so far. They took the tournament by surprise by beating Spain in the first group stage match, and has carried that momentum all the way to semifinals.
Against an Egypt team that was reduced to 10 men before halftime, Japan started the match brightly and took an early lead.
Forward Kensuke Nagai scored in the 14th minute after midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake stripped the ball from a defender near the halfway line, turned and ran down the right before firing in a hard cross just inside the penalty area. Nagai chested the ball down and turned around Egypt goalkeeper Ahmed Elshenawi and defender Saadeldin Saad, who both collided trying to deal with the danger and sprawled to the ground. Nagai slotted the ball into an empty net.
But Nagai picked up a leg injury during the goal and had to be carried off. He tried to come back on again, but was substituted in the 20th minute by forward Manabu Saito.
For Japan's second, captain Maya Yoshida was unmarked and headed home in the 78th minute from a free kick. Japan's third came in the 83rd with another header, this time from Yuki Otsu, after a cross.
Egypt's best chance came in the 77th when a dipping shot from midfielder Mohamed El Neny appeared to be going in, but Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda dived down to his right and made the save.
The Baby Pharaohs saw more of the ball after the first goal and started creating problems for the Japanese with better buildup and dangerous balls into the box. Right back Ahmed Fathi sent a low cross in for forward Emad Meteab, but he sent his shot wide from near the six-yard box in the 30th. Fathi sent in a similar cross in the 36th, which Japan defender Hiroki Sakai had to back-kick over his own crossbar.
Egypt was reduced to 10 men in the 41st when Saad was sent off for fouling Saito just before he entered the penalty area as the last man in a goal-scoring opportunity.
"Playing with 10 men against an organized team like Japan affected a lot of our play," Egypt coach Hany Ramzy said. "We tried in the second half to come back into the game but Japan made it 2-0 and after this we got some injured players and it was very hard to play with eight players for the last 20 minutes."
Sekizuka was only 8 years old when Japan's football team won a bronze at the 1968 Mexico Games and doesn't remember much about it. Japan would have to wait nearly three decades before returning to the Olympic tournament at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The coach said the team is also drawing inspiration from the women's football team, which also qualified for the semifinals by beating Brazil.
"Leading up to the Olympics, my aim was to beat the world," Sekizuka said. "We prepared immensely. Game by game we have been working very well together as a team. This has led to the good results so far. Basically, all we have to do is play like we have been playing."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.