In recent years, the growth of Asian football has well and truly been remarkable. None more so than that of the Japanese men’s and women’s teams.
For the men’s team, Japan experienced a barren spell between 1968, in which they received their best ever finish at an Olympic Games (third), and 1996. Equally surprising is Japan’s abysmal record at the World Cup. Between 1930 and 1998, Japan failed to qualify for nine World Cups, didn’t even enter three and withdrew or were banned from a further two.
However, the qualification for France 1998 was a sign of the steady rise of Japanese football, despite failing to win a single group game. Today, Japan are looking to go one better than third place at Mexico 1968, with its progress into the semifinals at the expense of Egypt.
It took Japan less than a minute to show their intent with a headed chance from 12 yards out. Seven minutes later, Keigo Higashi beat the offside trap on the left before his low cross was blocked by Ahmed Hegazi. The resulting corner was then headed wide by Daisuke Suzuki.
Japan eventually found the breakthrough. Egyptian left-back Eslam Ramadanwas was caught in possession by Kiyotake. Kiyotake's resulting pass found Kensuke Nagai, who calmly rounded keeper Ahmed Elshenawi, before slotting the ball into an unguarded net.
Egypt dominated possession but failed to make it count. Mohamed Aboutrika failed to convert from a cross before Emad Meteab found the wrong side of the post with his effort. Egypt’s wastefulness was summed up in the 33rd minute. Eslam Ramadan, of Haras El Hedood, caught a volley horribly wrong, sending it well wide of the target.
Egypt then continued to add to their own misery and downfall. With four minutes of the half remaining, Japanese substitute, Manabu Saito got goal side of defender Saadeldin Saad, who was only able to trip the Yokohama F Marino’s forward. This gave referee Mark Geiger no choice but to brandish the red card.
Just in case Egypt didn’t have enough problems, they had to sacrifice midfielder Shebab Ahmed, who was replaced by Mahmoud Alaa Eldin, to fill the void left by Saad.
The Pharoahs continued to fail to create any purposeful chances. Their lack of options allowed Japan to freely control the game, and with 12 minutes left, Egypt’s doom was almost sealed. Once again the Egyptians shot themselves in the foot. A foul on the right hand side of the box allowed Kiyotake to whip in a teasing cross, which was met by the head of lunging captain, Maya Yoshida.
The Japanese looked almost certain to keep hold of their clean sheet record, which would mean that they have not conceded in over 360 minutes of football during this tournament.
The tails of the Egyptians were well and truly between their legs in the 83rd minute. A daft foul on the left-hand side of the box cost the Egyptians. Hiroki Sakai played a short free kick to Kiyotake, whose return pass was perfect. This allowed the Cerezo Osaka midfielder to deliver a peach of a cross, which was subsequently nodded home by Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Yuki Otsu.
Full time score: Japan 3 Egypt 0.
This result means that both the men’s 2011 Asian Cup winners and the women’s 2011 FIFA World Cup winners are through to the semifinals.
This piece was written by Mike Marron of The Reporters' Academy, a media production company run by young people. The Reporters' Academy is integrated into the world of media, education and employment, based in two great sporting cities, Manchester and Melbourne, and is officially Inspired by London 2012.