The gigantic result, which will undoubtedly go down as the biggest win in the history of the 15-year-old U.S. Under-23 Men's National Team program, could also be seen as one of the most historic and telling wins in the entire U.S. Men's National Team program's recent history.
After winning Group C and advancing out of the first round for the first time ever, the undefeated U.S. men are now headed to the semi-final medal round, where they will face Spain on Tuesday (Sept. 26) at Sydney Football Stadium. The match, which is set to kick off at 8 p.m. local time, will be televised via tape delay on MSNBC during Olympic coverage between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET).
"I've been involved in a lot of games over the years - World Cup games, World Cup Qualifying games. This may have been the most exciting game that I've ever been involved in," said head coach Clive Charles, who led the U.S. Under-23 Men's National Team to a bronze medal at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg last July. "The team never gave up. We came from behind twice. I'm just ... I'm exhausted. I felt it was a tremendous performance from the U.S. team today."
U.S. midfielder and overtime substitute Sasha Victorine (Los Angeles Galaxy--MLS), who was a late addition to the final Olympic squad after an injury to initial "over-age" midfielder Chris Armas, ended up the hero for the night. The Carmichael, Calif., native stepped up and converted the fifth and final penalty kick, giving the USA the 5-4 advantage after five rounds. After U.S. "over-age" goalkeeper Brad Friedel (Liverpool--England) nearly saved the first two penalty kick attempts, gifted "over-age" midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata had missed the fourth Japan attempt, striking the left post.
The U.S. twice came back to tie the match, finally equalizing on a Peter Vagenas (Los Angeles Galaxy--MLS) penalty kick in the 90th minute in a similar storyline to last Wednesday's 1-1 tie versus Cameroon in which Vagenas helped the U.S. draw even in the 64th minute. As in the Cameroon match, U.S. forward Josh Wolff (Chicago Fire--MLS) created the PK opportunity, this time being knocked down from behind by a Japanese defender after beating him to a looping through ball.
Japan opened the match by controlling play over the first 15-20 minutes, and their dangerous attack finally the 30th minute following a Ben Olsen (D.C. United--MLS) just outside the edge of the penalty box. On the resulting free kick, Japan midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura had his shot blocked, but quickly tracked down the rebound and sent a cross to the far post. Forward Atsushi Yanagisawa was there to outleap U.S. captain Chad McCarty (Tampa Bay Mutiny--MLS) and bounced a header in the corner of the net past a sprawling Friedel.
The U.S. had a handful of good chances in the first half, but either brave Japanese goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki, who ended the night with 10 saves and a bloodied jersey, or the three-man Japanese backline were there to thwart every real scoring opportunity.
The USA would not be able to get on the board until the 68th minute, when "over-age" defender Jeff Agoos (D.C. United--MLS) ended up on the right flank after a corner kick and sent a low cross into the box. His pass bounced directly in front of a scattered wall of defenders, one of whom stuck his leg out and poked a poor clearance to the top of the box. U.S. forward Josh Wolff, who is tied with teammates Vagenas and Chris Albright (D.C. United--MLS) for the team lead with two goals in the Olympics, was there to tee it up, cracking a shot inside the left post to tie the score at 1-1.
But the even score would be short-lived, as Japan would again go ahead in the 72nd minute. Creative Japan midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura earned his second assist on the night, setting up the goal by dribbling toward the box and stopping to send a perfect looping cross to unmarked striker Naohiro Takahara at the six-yard box. Takahara found himself shadowed only by Friedel, and volleyed a shot directly at him from point-blank range. Friedel's reaction save produced a short rebound that fell directly back to Takahara, who roofed his next shot to put his team up 2-1 and re-energize the chants of "Nippon! Nippon! Nippon!" from the pro-Japanese crowd.
Just two minutes later, the U.S. almost struck back at 2-2. Again appearing on the right flank, Agoos sent an inswinging free kick to the far post. Second-half substitute Landon Donovan (Bayer Leverkusen--Germany), who made his second appearance of the Olympics as a sparkplug off the bench, positioned himself well and headed it back across the goalmouth. U.S. defender Danny Califf, whose header goal started the U.S. off in their 3-1 win over Kuwait last Saturday, was there to flick a bee-bee header on goal, but it was blocked by Narazaki and then cleared.
Another U.S. threat led to a Japan misplay that would have an effect on the rest of the match. Trying to head clear a booming U.S. ball, defender Yuji Nakazawa and Narazaki smacked heads as one was backpedaling and the other charging out. Both players immediately went down and the ball bounced awkwardly toward the endline. Albright ran it down and quickly tried to put a shot on an open goal, but he was forced to shoot from a bad angle and the ball floated high and landed harmlessly on the top netting.
The U.S. had failed to capitalize on the fluke play, but Narazaki had to lay down injured in the box for almost five minutes. When play finally resumed with him in the nets, he had a bloody nose that he had to constantly wipe away for the rest of the match.
In true storybook fashion, the USA would get the tying goal in the 90th minute, as Vagenas stared down a woozy Narazaki, whose jersey was now streaked with blood, and nailed it right down the center of the goal as the ?keeper dove to his left.
After a long five minutes of injury time, the score remained 2-2 and both teams headed into the first of two "golden goal", or sudden death, overtime periods with the U.S. clearly holding the momentum for extra time.
In the third minute of the first overtime, another perfect cross from Agoos found Donovan, whose header was perfectly marked for the upper left corner of the goal before Narazaki leaped to push it wide.
Nakata would continue to be the most dangerous Japan player as a scorer and passer, sending a blistering shot just wide left of the post in the 97th minute. In the 102nd minute, Takahara beat McCarty to a long ball and laid it off to Nakata, who sent a low cannon for the near post. The pace and perfect aim on Nakata's blast forced Friedel to hurl himself to his left and use every inch of his enormous wingspan to tap the ball out for a corner kick.
In the second overtime, the weary U.S. continued to attack after being bolstered with the addition of midfielders Victorine and Evan Whitfield (Chicago Fire--MLS), who both came on during the first overtime and were seeing their first action of the tournament.
With tired legs on both sides of the field as the clock ticked past 110 minutes, neither team could complete a series of passes to produce a quality shot on goal, always falling one pass short in their attack.
In the result-deciding penalty kick shootout, all five American shot takers converted their chances, beginning and ending with Galaxy teammates Vagenas and Victorine, respectively. With Nakata's missed chance and the penalty kick score tied at four in the bottom of the fifth round, Victorine calmly sent the ball into the right part of the goal as the U.S. bench and most of the newly pro-U.S. crowd erupted.
The U.S. Men's Olympic Team will have a light training session tomorrow morning in Adelaide before departing for Sydney in the late afternoon. The team will be setting up camp in the Athletes Village tomorrow evening and will likely train Monday morning at 10 a.m. at a site to be determined in preparation for Tuesday's semi-final match versus Spain at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Spain, who pulled out a 1-0 win over UEFA qualifying champion and Group A winner Italy in Sydney, comes into the match having defeated the U.S. in their last meeting. The two teams collided in the second round of the 16-team FIFA World Youth (Under-20) Championship in Nigeria last April, with the U.S. forging a valiant comeback but falling 3-2 to the eventual tournament winners.
In the other two quarterfinal matches, Group B winner Chile pounded ?96 Olympic champion Nigeria 4-1 in Melbourne and Cameroon needed double overtime to edge gold medal favorites Brazil 2-1 in Brisbane. The two teams will face off Tuesday night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
2000 U.S. MEN'S OLYMPIC TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Men's Olympic Team vs. Japan|
|Competition:||2000 Olympic Games - Quarterfinals|
|Venue:||Hindmarsh Stadium (Adelaide, Australia)|
|Date:||September 23, 2000 - Kickoff 6:30 p.m. (local)|
|Weather:||70 degrees - Windy, Pleasant|
JPN - Atsushi Yanagisawa, (Shunsuke Nakamura), 30,
USA - Josh Wolff (unassisted), 68,
JPN - Naohiro Takahara, (Shunsuke Nakamura), 72,
USA - Peter Vagenas (penalty kick), 90.
JPN - Nakamura (goal), Inamoto (goal), Morioka (goal), Nakata (left post), Myojin (goal).
USA - Vagenas (goal), Agoos (goal), Donovan (goal), Wolff (goal), Victorine (goal).
Note: Japan shot first in the Penalty Kick round.
USA - 1-Brad Friedel; 4-Jeff Agoos, 3-Chad McCarty (Capt.), 8-Danny Califf, 6-Frankie Hejduk; 5- John O'Brien (15-Evan Whitfield, 108), 10-Peter Vagenas, 11-Chris Albright (14-Sasha Victorine, 91), 9-Ben Olsen (13-Landon Donovan, 46); 17-Conor Casey, 16-Josh Wolff.
JPN - 1-Seigo Narazaki; 2-Yuji Nakazawa, 3-Naoki Matsuda, 4-Ryuzo Morioka (Capt.); 6-Junichi Inamoto, 7-Hidetoshi Nakata, 8-Tomokazu Myojin, 10-Shunsuke Nakamura, 12-Tomoyuki Sakai; 13- Atsushi Yanagisawa (11-Atsuhiro Miura, 65), 17-Naohiro Takahara.
|Naoki Matsuda (caution)||20,|
|Chad McCarty (caution)||27,|
|Ben Olsen (caution)||28,|
|Naohiro Takahara (caution)||72.|