Entering the game with the Group D lead with six points and a plus two (+2) goal differential after 2-1 wins over South Africa and Slovakia, Japan needed just a tie to finish first and head to Brisbane. But with a 1-0 loss to Olympic gold medal favorites Brazil, who surprisingly slipped 3-1 to South Africa in their second match, both teams finished with six points. With both teams holding a plus one (+1) goal differential, Brazil got the tiebreaker edge with one more goal scored (five to Japan's four).
Japan, who was riding an impressive 19-game winning streak before falling to Brazil, features one of the best players in this 2000 Olympic tournament -- "over-age" midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata of Italian Serie A team AS Roma. Although a team full of speed and flair but also surprising physical presence, it may be the gold medal reward of six million yen (approximately $50,000 U.S. dollars) per player that will drive the Asian side.
The last time the United States faced Japan on the men's side was in last year's FIFA World Youth (Under-20) Championship in Nigeria, where the U.S. fell 2-1 in opening round play. While the U.S. advanced out of the first round and finished 11th of 16 teams in the bi-annual tournament, Japan went on to the championship match, where they fell to eventual champion Spain.
With last night's momentous 3-1 win over Kuwait, the U.S. accomplished what 11 teams before them had failed to do in Olympic Games dating back to the first U.S. entry in 1924 in Paris. But besides accomplishing the initial goal to reach the quarterfinals, the U.S. won the group and finished with an impressive undefeated record. While four of the past five U.S. Men's Olympic Teams failed to advance with a 1-1-1 record, this break-through group earned solid draws and sometimes dominated the favored Cameroon and Czech Republic teams, and came up big in a must-win situation with Kuwait.
From the leadership of the "over-age" trio of defenders Jeff Agoos (Dallas, Texas; D.C. United-- MLS) and Frankie Hejduk (Cardiff, Calif.; Bayer Leverkusen--Germany) and top U.S. Men's National goalkeeper Brad Friedel (Bay Village, Ohio; Liverpool--England), who have helped the USA hold opponents to just two goals in the run of play in three matches, to the solid performance of seasoned MLS veterans Josh Wolff (Stone Mountain, Ga.; Chicago Fire--MLS), Ben Olsen (Middletown, Pa; D.C. United--MLS) and Chad McCarty (Clovis, Calif.; Tampa Bay Mutiny--MLS), this Olympic team has proved to be the most talented and experienced squad the U.S. has ever produced for this competition.
Although this group of Olympians includes the most professional players of any team before (17 of 18 players), it is also the youngest, with a pair of potential superstars. Already, the team has received major contributions from big 19-year-old forward Conor "Crash" Casey (Denver, Colo.; University of Portland), the team's only collegian, and 18-year-old scoring sensation Landon Donovan (Redlands, Calif.; Bayer Leverkusen--Germany), whose game-clinching goal last night was the one that helped the U.S. win the group on goal differential.
With the U.S. Women's Olympic Team besting Nigeria 3-1 tonight to win Group F, the United States is the only Olympic soccer country to have both men's and women's teams advance as first round group winners in this year's Games. Brazil advanced in both competitions, but the Brazilian women advanced as runner-up in Group E. Nigeria advanced in the men's competition but was eliminated from a strong group in the women's tournament, while host Australia gained just one point between the two sides in group play.
In the four Men's Soccer groups, almost all of the favored teams advanced, making the quarterfinal pairings a deadly set of eight youth powerhouses.
In Group A, or the "Group of Death," European (UEFA) Qualifying champion Italy and defending Olympic champion Nigeria battled to a draw last night and finished 1-2 ahead of CONCACAF qualifying champion Honduras and legitimate pre-Olympic medal contender Australia, who was mathematically eliminated after the first two losses and then surprisingly finished with zero points in three games.
The growing success of the fluid, Latin style of soccer was evident in Group B, as Chile and Spain dominated the group. Led by awesome striker Ivan Zamarano of Italy's Inter Milan, Chile tied Nigeria with a tournament-leading seven goals to win the group handily.
Joining the U.S. and Japan from Groups C and D respectively were Olympic favorite Brazil, who has won every major international championship except the Olympics, and defending African Nations Cup winners Cameroon.
|September 23||Adelaide||Q1: United States vs. Japan|
|September 23||Brisbane||Q2: Brazil vs. Cameroon|
|September 23||Sydney FS||Q3: Italy vs. Spain|
|September 23||Melbourne||Q4: Chile vs. Nigeria|
|September 26||Sydney FS||Winner Q3 (ITA or ESP) vs. Winner Q1 (USA or JPN)|
|September 26||Melbourne||Winner Q4 (CHI or NGA) vs. Winner Q2 (BRA or CMR)|
|September 29||Sydney FS||Semifinal Losers|
|September 30||Sydney OS||Semifinal Winners|