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Japan reaches Olympic soccer semifinals

Saturday - 8/4/2012, 9:54am  ET

By FRANK GRIFFITHS
Associated Press

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Japan advanced to the men's Olympic soccer semifinals Saturday with a 3-0 win over a short-handed Egypt team after goals from Kensuke Nagai, captain Maya Yoshida and Yuki Otsu.

Nagai scored in the 14th minute after midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake stripped the ball off a defender near the halfway line, turned and ran down the right before firing in a hard cross just inside the penalty area.

Nagai chested the ball down and turned around Egypt goalkeeper Ahmed Elshenawi and defender Saadeldin Saad, who collided and sprawled to the ground. Nagai slotted into an empty net.

But Nagai hurt his leg during the goal and had to be taken off on a stretcher. He tried to come back but was taken out in the 20th minute, with forward Manabu Saito coming on.

For Japan's second goal, Yoshida was unmarked and scored on a header in the 78th minute from a free kick. Japan's third came in the 83rd with another header, this time from Otsu, after a cross.

Egypt's best chance came in the 77th, when a dipping shot from midfielder Mohamed El Neny appeared to be going in but Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda dived to his right and made the save.

The Baby Pharaohs saw more of the ball after the first goal and started creating problems for the Japanese with better build-up and dangerous balls into the box.

Right back Ahmed Fathi sent a low cross in for forward Emad Meteab, but he sent his shot wide from near the 6-yard box in the 30th. Fathi sent in a similar cross in the 36th that Japan defender Hiroki Sakai had to back-kick over his own crossbar.

Egypt was reduced to 10 men in the 41st when Saad was sent off for fouling Saito just before he entered the penalty area as the last man in a goal-scoring opportunity.

Japan started off the match brightly, dribbling past defenders with ease and getting behind the back line with ease. But the Japanese failed to convert the chances until the goal. They continued to press forward in the second half, trying to take advantage of the extra man.

Japan's soccer team won a bronze in 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics, but failed to take part in another Olympics until 1996 in Atlanta. Now the Japanese are slowly starting to become a rising force in world soccer, drawing on a solid youth program. The national team qualified for the 2010 World Cup and advanced to the first knockout round before being eliminated in a penalty shootout by Paraguay after a 0-0 draw.

The under-23 team took the tournament by surprise to beat Spain in the group stage.


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