The Japanese men defeated Morocco 1-0 to book a place in the quarterfinals. Kensuke Nagai scored the only goal in the 84th minute of an entertaining match. The victory leaves Japan needing only a draw against Honduras to secure top spot in the group and likely avoid Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Morocco started the match very well, keeping the ball and moving it across midfield comfortably. Japan didn’t seem to be pressing with the same urgency as they had against Spain, and as a result Morocco was able to keep possession without much trouble. Former PSV man Nordin Amrabat had a great chance to open the scoring in the 18th minute but his shot was blocked by Gotoku Sakai. Japan got better as the half wore on and Moroccan keeper Mohamed Amsif had to produce a wonderful goal-line save to prevent Sakai from heading home the opening goal. Maya Yoshida had a free header just before half-time but couldn’t put his effort on target.
Morocco started the second half strong and were able to keep possession in much the same way they did early in the first half. However, again Japan improved as the half wore on. In the 62nd, Amsif had to produce another glorious save to prevent Japan from scoring. Hiroshi Kiyotake unleashed a great shot that Amsif managed to tap onto the crossbar. The ball then bounced off Amsif’s back straight into the air for an easy take. In the 70th, Amsif prevented Japan from scoring once again, this time pushing Yuki Otsu’s shot just left of the post. Japan had another chance in the 78th when Kensuke Nagai played in Hotaru Yamaguchi with a beautiful flick, but Yamaguchi blazed his first time shot over the bar.
The breakthrough finally came in the 84th when Kiyotake played a perfect ball over the defense that Nagai lobbed over the charging Amsif with his first touch. Amsif had rushed out thinking he would reach the ball first, but the speedy Nagai beat him to it and lobbed with the outside of his right. It was the type of magnificent finishing that Japan had lacked against Spain.
Morocco had their best chance of the match in stoppage time as the dangerous Zakaria Labyad was played through on goal. His effort was stopped by Gonda, and a rebound shot from Omar El Kaddouri was blocked by captain Yoshida.
Morocco were excellent and had no trouble keeping possession. All their players were comfortable on the ball and able to pass it with ease. Morocco’s passing was helped by Japan’s lack of pressing at times, but even when they were pressed they combined well, especially down the left where Labyad was lively throughout.
Unlike Spain, Morocco also had a great forward presence in the excellent Nordin Amrabat. He held the ball up expertly and linked well with the wide players. However, like Spain, Morocco did struggle to get behind the Japanese defense and create clear chances.Their two biggest opportunities came from a set piece and a long ball over the top. Labyad also had a couple shots from long range.
Japan was unable to keep the ball in midfield as well as they did against Spain. Otsu, Kiyotake, and Keigo Higashi did have great moments of combination, but most of the midfield threat came when they ran at the Moroccan defense. Otsu and Kiyotake were particularly good in this regard. No time yet for Takashi Usami who might have helped with the passing in the second half.
Nagai wasn’t pressing the defense as much as he did against Spain, but he still held up play very well and was able to reach passes with his speed. His finish was a thing of beauty.
Once again the defense was very good, with Yoshida excellent in the center. Gotoku Sakai was great on the right, but didn’t provide as much attacking verve as Hiroshi Sakai did against Spain. Gonda was excellent in goal as well. After two games, Japan and Mexico are the only teams that have not conceded a goal.
Another great win for Japan and one more point to clinch first place in the group.
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