Japan 1, Spain 0.
The scoreboard said it, but it didn't make sense. Japan pulled off an upset over international football powerhouse Spain in their first game of the 2012 Olympics on Thursday.
Japan played stifling defense today, according to Bleacher Report's World Football Lead Blogger Michael Cummings. They had their chances to score, but for the most part they won the game by stopping the Spanish attack.
This defensive aspect will be crucial for Japan moving forward, as it will help them knock off elite teams. While they will need to finish better than they did today, that's an easier fix than having to improve their defense.
While it was only the countries' U23 teams and not their senior teams, it's still an impressive upset, and now fans are asking if Japan can go the distance and win the gold medal in London.
Not so fast.
Sure, Japan will most likely escape the group stage, but they will be hard-pressed to keep winning from there.
In Group D, which also features Honduras and Morocco, Japan is almost guaranteed to advance. One more win will guarantee them a trip to the next stage, and two ties would essentially do the same, so long as Spain doesn't lose their next two games.
The most likely combination from Group D is to have Japan as the top team and Spain as the second.
If that happens, Japan will be playing the second place team from Group C. As long as Brazil is not upset as Spain was, the Japanese should be able to advance to the semis without too much difficulty.
By beating Spain the Japanese have essentially secured that they won't have to play Spain in the first elimination game, which is absolutely huge.
The real test for Japan will come when they play either the winner of Group B or the second place team in Group A. Odds are that Mexico will win Group B and then advance to the semis.
The Mexicans have an incredibly good team considering that it is their U23 team. They are one of the favorites to win the gold, and now that Spain has been proven to be vulnerable, they appear to be tied with Brazil as the favorites.
The Japanese played well today, but I'm not convinced that they have what it takes to stop Mexico. They will definitely have to finish better and keep their defense at a high level. If they do those things, they have a chance to win, but it's not going to be easy.
Even if they do beat Mexico, they will have to play either Spain or Brazil in the final game, and pulling off two more big upsets during one tournament seems like a stretch.
Don't get me wrong—by beating Spain, Japan's chances to win gold have soared. However, they are not yet a favorite in the tournament.
We learned that the Japanese are better than expected from Thursday's match. Their defense was impeccable and their offense created opportunities. They are now a legitimate contender for the gold medal.
However, it will take a lot for them to win it, and I'd say that they have the fourth best chance behind Mexico, Brazil and, even now, Spain.
Japan's Odds to Win Gold: 15-1
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