KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY: The last time Mexico and Japan both reached the semi-finals of the Olympic Games was in 1968 and, in two different games, they both lost. At Wembley this time, however, playing against each other, there could be only one winner and that was Mexico by 3-1.
In 1968 hosts Mexico lost to Bulgaria and the Japanese crashed 5-0 to ultimate goal medallists Hungary which demonstrates how the balance of power in world football has altered, particularly in the years following the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Remarkably their bronze medal match, in the Estadio Azteca, saw a Japanese win by 2-0 after a match played in front of an Olympic record attendance of 105,000. Now, after 44 further years and in front of 82,372, the tables were turned.
Japan must go to Cardiff for Friday’s third-place, bronze-medal play-off having failed to match the achievement of their women’s team who have reached their own final.
Japan began with more apparent belief. Horishi Kiyotake had a low drive tipped wide in the fifth minute by Mexico keeper Jose Corona before Yuki Otsu thumped them ahead with a 25-metre drive on the half-volley in the 12th minute.
Mexico responded by raising the tempo. Giovani dos Santos struck wide when he should have capitalised on Japanese defensive confusion in the 28th minute but, three minutes later, provided the corner from which Marco Fabian glance-headed an equaliser.
This was the first goal Japan had conceded in the Olympics though they had conceded to Mexico, ironically, in a pre-tournament warm-up friendly.
The longer the game went on the more confidence and command the Mexicans assumed. Japan revived a little after half-time – with Mexico bringing on Raul Jimenez for Giovani – but not for long.
Mexico were soon again looking the stronger and they moved in sight of a final duel against Brazil or South Korea back at Wembley on Saturday by taking a 64th-minute lead through over-age midfielder Oribe Peralta.
First the Santos Laguna man had an angled left-foot drive well saved by keeper Gonda then, when Ohgihara lost possession from the goalkeeper’s thrown clearance, Peralta seized the ball and chip-clipped a beautiful shot up into the top right-hand corner.
The predictable scenario unfolded: Japan threw men forward, but in desperately ragged fashion, and newly-arrived Mexican substitute Javier Cortes sneaked away on the right to score a killing third goal.
Mexico: Corona – Israel Jimenez, Mier, Reyes, Chavez – Aquino (Cortes 89), Enriquez, Salcido, Fabian – Peralta – Giovani (Raul Jimenez 46), Fabian.
Japan: Gonda – Sakai, Suzuki, Yoshida, Tikunaga – Yamaguchi – Otsu, Higashi (Sugimoto 70), Ohgihara (Saito 83), Kiyotake (Usami 76) – Nagai.
Referee: Rocchi (Italy).
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