Samurai Blue cruise into the London 2012 Olympic games

The national team eased into the Olympic football tournament with a 2-0 victory over Bahrain. The 36,000 crowd at the National Stadium saw two second-half goals from Takakiro Ogihara and Cerezo Osaka teammate Hiroshi Kiyotake put the tie beyond the reach of the Gulf state and secure their place in their fifth consecutive Olympic games.

Captain for the night Shuichi Gonda, whose exploits in the FC Tokyo goal provided the platform for victory against Omiya Ardija on Saturday, said the team must look to target victory in the tournament:

[When] we are there, it is like any competition – we want to win. We have to focus on the highest target from here on out.

“This team is very good and has improved a lot during the qualifiers. I want to see just how good we are.

Coach Takeshi Sekizuka, who did not select any players over the age of 23, now finds himself with the difficult decision of whether to add senior squad members to join his young squad in the UK, with goalkeeper Gonda remarking that:

[It] is up to the coach and the association. If [he chooses overage players] then it will be a big plus.

“But we have achieved this as a team so if we go with this squad of players it certainly won’t be a negative thing.

Kiyotake, the 22 year-old midfielder with a growing reputation both in Japan and internationally, and named in the J.League Best Eleven for 2011, was humble about his goal:

I just took the shot … all that needed to happen was for the ball to hit my foot and my motivation drove it in.

Japan will be joined in London by Group A and B winners South Korea and United Arab Emirates. South Korea went undefeated in their six matches and the UAE mounted an extraordinary comeback, finding themselves 2-0 down after the first period but winning the game with a Haboosh Saleh strike four minutes into added time.

In the other Group C game, as expected Syria comfortably defeated Malaysia 3-0 to seal the Group C runner-up position, and will now enter the Men’s Asian Qualifers Playoff Round for the Olympic games, together with Oman and Uzbekistan. The winner of the playoff round will then face Senegal in a single playoff match in the UK for the final berth at London 2012.

Men’s Asian Qualifiers Preliminary Round 3, Group C final table:

Team Pl W D L GF GA GD Pts
Japan 6 5 0 1 13 3 +10 15
Syria 6 4 0 2 12 6 +6 12
Bahrain 6 3 0 3 8 11 -3 9
Malaysia 6 0 0 6 3 16 -13 0

Hiroshi Kiyotake celebrates with international teammate Keigo Higashi after scoring his first and Japan's second goal in the 2-0 victory over Bahrain. The result secured an automatic qualifying berth for the Samurai Blue at the 2012 Olympic Games in London (Image courtesy of AFP).

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