After substitute Yuta Toyokawa became the first to break the long stalemate and breech the Iranian defenses, Shoya Nakajima followed with two lethal strikes in succession. As a result, Japan’s under-23 team moved one win from a place in this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Japan got all of the match’s goals in extra time, chalking up a 3-0 victory over Iran here Friday in a do-or-die quarterfinal of the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament.
“I’m shaking,” an elated Japan coach Makoto Teguramori said. “Both teams were a bit tight, but we fought patiently. In a drawn-out struggle, we were in better condition, so I thought we could do it. We grabbed this win.”
Japan will next face the winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal between the United Arab Emirates and Iraq in the semifinals on Tuesday. A victory will clinch a ticket to Rio, while a loss will mean Japan will need to win the third-place playoff to assure a sixth straight Olympic appearance.
This generation had failed to get over the “hurdle” of the quarterfinals three times — at the Asian Under-19 Championship in 2012, as well as the Asian U-22 Championship and the Asian Games, both in 2014.
“We wanted to smash the lingering disappointment from the successive losses,” said midfielder Shinya Yajima.
In a pressure-packed atmosphere, the match ebbed back and forth during regulation.
Iran attacked with long down-field passes and utilized its strength and speed to create scoring chances that failed to hit their mark, including a near-miss shortly after the 35th minute.
In the second half, Japan kept its cool against the Iranian attack and showed the stiff defense that had limited its first three opponents to a single goal. Late in the half, Iran was showing fatigue from Japan’s tight pressing.
“I thought that we didn’t need to rush things and, if we stayed patient, things would go our way,” Teguramori said. “The starters did a great job, and the substitutes did exactly the job we wanted them to do.”
The break came in the first half of extra time, when defender Sei Muroya shed his defender with a slick move coming down the right side, then sent a long cross to the goal mouth. Toyokawa, who came on in the 88th minute for Yajima, perfectly timed his diving header to beat the helpless keeper in the 95th minute.
In the second 15-minute session, Nakajima put the matter to rest within a two-minute span by rifling two shots into the upper corners of the goal from just outside the box.
“While fighting for an Olympic ticket, I wanted the players who had lost [to Iran before] to show growth,” Teguramori said.