Japan shock Spain in men's Olympic football match

 

If the Olympic Games are meant to value competition and not procession, it provided a perfect start at Hampden Park today. Spain, the winners of their last three major tournaments, a historic team playing futuristic football, were very well beaten by Japan, whose 1-0 victory was much narrower than it might have been.

The only goal came when Yuki Otsu took advantage of negligent defending from a first-half corner. But there were excellent chances for Keigo Higashi, Kensuke Negai and Hiroshi Kiyotake, especially after Inigo Martinez’s red card, and on a fairer day they could have scored four or more.

It did not feel like a lazy or presumptive to think that Spain’s tournament would be one long passing move from Glasgow down to Wembley Stadium, for their inevitable final with Brazil on 11 August. Yes, this is not a full-strength Spanish side. But their starting eleven yesterday included three players from the Euro 2012 squad, including Jordi Alba. The quality is remarkable: coach Luis Milla brought on Oriol Romeu, Ander Herrera and Christian Tello, and did not even touch Iker Muniain. But as a unit they were routed.

This was an object-lesson in how to play against Spain’s unique style. Japan were well-drilled defensively, while their midfield was relentless, chasing the Spanish passing back to its source, starving them of time and options. It was exhausting work, but provided the basis for their forwards to make the incisions.

“We are very pleased with the result,” said Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka afterwards. “We had a very strong will to win, although they had numerous dangerous players we were still able to change that into a good offence.”

Japan must now view their games against Honduras and Morocco as conquerable as they head for a crucial group victory. Oriol Romeu conceded that Spain must win those two if they are to qualify.

It was very swiftly obvious that Japan would cause Spain more problems than most sides did. The tireless forward running of Negai was one of Japan’s best weapons. After just two minutes he tested David De Gea with a volley and soon after carved another opening with his sharp and selfless movement, pulling into the left-channel and forcing Alvaro Dominguez into conceding a corner.

Spain could never summon the incision of Japan, and with 11 minutes left before half-time they scored the only goal. Takahiro Ogihara swung in a corner from the right and, inexplicably, there were no Spanish defenders near Otsu, who volleyed the ball past De Gea and in.

The world champions’ defence was rattled and five minutes later they nearly conceded again, when Martin Montoya’s mis-hit backpass allowed the excellent winger Kiyotake past De Gea but he could not quite find the angle to score.

And then, two minutes later, the crucial moment: Nagai forced himself goal-side of Inigo Martinez, whose clumsy tackle led to a deserved red card.

Down to 10 men, and committing most of them forward, Spain were repeatedly exposed at the back in the second half. De Gea had to make a diving save from Keigo Higashi’s curled shot. Nagai could not convert Kiyotake’s perfect ball behind the re-arranged defence. Javi Martinez, who moved from midfield to centre-back, has never looked so ruffled on a  football pitch. He was then embarrassed by Kiyotake, who shot just wide.

With Romeu and Herrera on, Spain improved, but the closest they came to scoring were two blocked shots from Mata and Alba with 11 minutes left. They lacked the numbers, energy or ideas to break through Japan, and Nagai and Hotaru Yamaguchi had the best late chances for 2-0. That would have been a fairer result, but Japan must be happy enough with how this went.

Match Rating 8

Man of the match Kiyotake

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent