NEWCASTLE: Spain will not be adding Olympic gold to their world and European titles after a 1-0 defeat by Honduras ensured their elimination from the Games. Instead Japan will be going forward – following up their initial win over the Spaniards with a 1-0 win over Morocco courtesy of a late Kensuke Nagai strike.
Jerry Bengtson got his third of the tournament to hand the CONCACAF side victory, but they rode their luck for large chunks of the game, with the Spaniards creating – and wasting – a host of chances.
Spain were looking to recover from their shock 1-0 defeat to Japan but it did not take long for them to see the offensive prowess Honduras showed against Morocco.
Having already scored two against the North Africans, it took just six minutes for Bengtson to draw level with Senegal’s Moussa Konate as the tournament’s leading scorer so far and dent Spain’s confidence further.
Honduras played the ball neatly to the left of Spain penalty area, seemingly with little on. However, Roger Espinoza found a yard to swing in a cross and Bengtson out-jumped Jordi Alba, leaving David De Gea little chance with a firm, downward header.
Early on, the well-fancied Europeans proved unable to go about their business with the swagger they are renowned for. However, they steadily grew into the game, with Juan Mata dragging wide before going agonisingly close soon after, slicing what would have been a fabulous volley from Martin Montoya’s cross.
It was déjà vu for Mata seconds before the break, as his side-footed effort drifted narrowly past the far post again as Spain finished very much on top.
Even so, they almost conceded again within five minutes of the restart. Espinoza almost adding to his earlier assist, arriving to meet Mario Martinez’s cross but his header cannoned off the inside of the post and Bengtson couldn’t react to score the rebound.
The scenario played out almost identically at the other end four minutes later. This time Montoya was the provider, Adrian Lopez heading against the bar and Muniain missing the follow-up. The man from Athletic Club rattled the woodwork himself ten minutes later, receiving the ball 40-yards out, before driving past two Hondurans and thumping the right-hand post with a low drive.
Spain continued to knock at the door, substitute Rodrigo producing a superb save from Jose Mendoza, before the goalkeeper triumphed again, diving at the forward’s feet when through on goal. Honduras held firm though as La Roja pressed until the end, Rodrigo coming closest as he struck the bar again, miscuing Mata’s cross with the goal at his mercy.
Japan 1 Morocco 0
The game had looked to be going the distance at 0-0, but on 84 minutes Nagai latched onto a through ball by Hiroshi Kiyotake before expertly lofting the ball over the advancing Mohamed Amsif and into the vacant net.
Japan came into the game after a stunning win over Spain, while Morocco had to contend with a 2-2 draw with Hondruas, though it was the Africans who arguably controlled the opening exchanges and they almost capitalised after 18 minutes.
Zakaria Labyad’s corner from the right caused a frantic scramble in the Japanese six-yard box, but when the ball fell to Amrabat his strike was blocked by a prone Gotoku Sakai. Labyad sufficiently quickened Japanese pulses 15 minutes later when he stung the palms of Shuichi Gonda with a vicious strike from 35-yards.
Japan got their first clear sight of goal when Amsif had clasped Daisuke Suzuki’s headed effort on the line before captain Yoshida had a gilt-edged effort, glancing a free header wide moments before half-time.
Neither side flew back out of the traps, but Morocco were again the first to craft a chance after the break. A slick and intricate passing move down the right saw them win a corner, but Abdelhamid El Kaoutari’s resulting header was easily claimed by Gonda.
Japan were restricted to a more a resolutely defensive showing than their free-flowing display against Spain,but they were inches from breaking the deadlock just after the hour mark. Keigo Higashi created space on the edge of the box, firing a sweeping left-footed drive. However Amsif was just equal to it, tipping it onto the bar before getting lucky no to see it ricochet in off his back.
Amsif had to produce his best again minutes later to deny Yuhki Otsu his second of the tournament, diving to his right after the Japanese midfielder was allowed to charge through the Moroccan half and strike from range.
Japan continued to grow into the game and should have gone ahead after Hotaru Yamaguchi was put clean through, but struck his effort high over the bar. However Kensuke Nagai’s deft lob was enough to snatch the win, despite a late save by Gonda, denying Labyad.
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