GLASGOW: Spain’s status as joint favourites – along with Brazil – for the men’s 2012 Olympic football title hit an initial setback when they lost their opening game 1-0 to Japan at Hampden Park, Glasgow.
The junior partners of the world and European champions played more than half the game with 10 men and were fortunate, in the end, to lose by only the single goal. The other Group D game saw Morocco draw 2-2 with Honduras.
Yuki Otsu scored the decisive goal in front of a 37,326 crowd at Hampden Park, and the victory was no more than the Asian underdogs deserved against a sluggish Spain side for whom Inigo Martinez was sent off.
The warning signs were there for the Spanish from an early stage, with Kensuke Nagai testing David de Gea inside two minutes with a left-foot volley the Spain goalkeeper was able to comfortably hold.
The world champions, on the other hand, were strangely subdued, although Juan Mata did provide a flash of inspiration, drifting in from the right wing and crashing in a low left-foot shot that Shuici Gonda did well to shovel behind for a corner.
Japan were more than holding their own, though, and it wasn’t entirely unexpected when they took a 34th-minute lead. The goal – the first conceded by Spain against Asian opposition at the Olympics – emanated from an inviting, inswinging left-footed corner from Takahiro Ohgihara, with Otsu able to nip in ahead of marker Martin Montoya to prod the ball home.
Spain were stunned, and within three minutes they nearly gifted their lively opponents a second when Alvaro Dominguez’s misdirected back-pass was intercepted by Hiroshi Kiyotake.
Scarcely able to believe his luck, the Japan No17 succeeded in dribbling around De Gea but, from an acute angle, was unable to find the far corner of the net with his left-foot shot.
La Roja might have enjoyed a lucky escape on that occasion but their hopes suffered another blow four minutes before the interval when Martinez, having been robbed by and then hauled back Nagai, was sent off for a professional foul.
This further compounded Luis Milla’s side’s inability to dominate possession, and the second half began with Japan very much on top.
Indeed, only a flying De Gea save prevented Keigo Natsuri from doubling their lead, while Nagai missed two glaring opportunities in identical fashion, sliding left-foot shots wide of the far post with the goal seemingly at his mercy.
At the other end, Spain’s normally incisive passing continued to desert them, and they now face two vital matches against Honduras and Morocco if they are to avoid an early Olympic exit.
Honduras 2 Morocco 2
Earlier at Hampden Honduras and Morocco have kicked off the Group D double-header with an entertaining 2-2 draw.
An enthusiastic crowd at Glasgow’s Hampden Park were treated to an open and end-to-end game, with both sides carving out plenty of chances. The first major sign of danger for Honduras came after32 minutes, when their keeper Jose Mendoza was forced into a brilliant save to tip away a flashing Houssine Kharja header, which had looked destined for the bottom corner.
Morocco drew encouragement from that near miss though, and six minutes later they took the lead with a tremendous opening goal, slammed home from 20 yards by Abdelaziz Barrada after the ball had been cushioned into his path by an intelligent Zakaria Labyad header.
Pim Verbeek’s side were just about worthy of their lead at the interval, but it was Honduras who started the second period better and it was no surprise when they equalised within ten minutes of the restart. Maynor Figueroa was the goal’s architect, charging forward from left-back and, with the Morocco defence continuing to back off, firing in a low, left-footed shot.
The ball looked to be trundling safely into the arms of keeper Mohamed Amsif, but Jerry Bengston had other ideas and stuck out a boot to divert the ball away from the committed keeper and into the net.
Bengston was in the mood now and just nine minutes later he doubled his and Honduras’s tally to turn the scoreline on its head. This goal came from the penalty, slotted coolly down the middle after Yassine Jabour had been correctly penalised for clipping the heels of substitute Eddie Hernandez.
Having gone from leading to trailing in such a short space of time, Morocco deserved credit for their spirited response, which led to an equaliser just two minutes later. A magnificent equaliser it was too, chipped home from 16 yards by Zakaria Labyad after the highly rated Sporting Lisbon youngster had spotted Amsif slightly off his line.
Verbeek’s side would have hoped to push on for all three points thereafter, but their hopes were dented by a needless red card picked up by Zakaraya Bergdich for kicking out at Mario Martinez, and both sides ultimately had to be content with a share of the spoils.
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