A 0-0 draw with Honduras was enough for the Japanese men to secure first place in Group D and a quarterfinal matchup with Egypt on Saturday. The result suited both teams, with Honduras finishing in second place and also progressing.
In the history of goalless draws, this will not go down as one of the more riveting ones. While both teams seemed somewhat interested in scoring, neither were able to get behind the defenses and create chances. The only moment when it looked like the deadlock might be broken was in the first half when Jerry Bengston got on the end of ball from midfield and got a shot through on goal, but Shuichi Gonda was able to get down sharply and then gobble up the rebound.
Honduras started the first half better, but Japan got better later on and were able to string some passes together. The second half was similar, with Honduras starting better and Japan gradually growing into it. By the end, most of the football was being played by Japan in and around the Honduras box.
Takashi Usami was one of the newcomers in the match and didn’t have much of a chance to shine. With neither team really interested in playing through the midfield, Usami’s contributions were mostly through moments of individual flair, which he had a couple, and set pieces. He seemed to hit his free kicks and corner kicks deep, and one set piece had the Honduran keeper Jose Mendoza struggling back to tip the ball over the bar.
The standout performer was Gotoku Sakai who played on the left after playing on the right against Spain and Morocco. He let absolutely nothing through and was excellent bringing the ball forward. He used his impressive speed to cut out passes and add width to attack when needed.
D.C. United youngster Andy Najar was the most dangerous player for Honduras. He showed some great speed and close control, and when he was substituted off in the 60th minute, the Honduran attack became noticeably less dangerous.
Shuichi Gonda made a couple excellent saves and was commanding in his box. He plucked out crosses pretty comfortably and had the confident look of an established senior level keeper. The defense as a unit still has yet to concede a goal in the tournament.
The midfield looked a lot better once Hiroshi Kiyotake came on in the 67th. Passes started to connect in the middle, giving more space to the wide players. Kensuke Nagai also improved the attack when he came on in the 81st.
Overall, a good result that achieves the goal of first place.
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