Tokyo Olympics men's football: Spain through to final; Asensio shines

Spain will now have to get the better of five-time World Cup winner and the reigning Olympic champion Brazil to win the gold medal.

Marco Asensio of Spain celebrates his goal against Japan at the Saitama Stadium on Tuesday.   -  REUTERS

Marco Asensio arrived as a late second-half substitute to find the elusive winner in the dying minutes of extra-time and help Spain beat Japan 1-0 for a place in the final of men’s football.

Japan showed doggedness and creativity in a good measure to match Spain throughout the contest and they were unlucky to crash out because of a world-class goal produced by the Real Madrid midfielder Asensio, who was a desperate implant by the coach Luis de la Fuente to end Spain’s tentativeness in the striking zone.

Spain, which reached its first final after a break of more than two decades (since 2000 Sydney), will be meeting defending champion Brazil in the gold medal match on Sunday. Brazil had struggled against a tenacious Mexico in the other semifinal that remained goalless for 120 minutes. The Selecao finally managed to secure a passage to the final by beating Mexico 4-1 in the penalty shoot-outs.

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The usual Spanish flair, seen in its quick short passing game, was largely missing as Japan employed pressing football to cramp the former for space. After a scrappy first half that did not produce any good opportunity for either of the opponents, Spain saw some hope early in the second session when referee Kevin Ortega of Peru pointed to the dreaded spot after midfielder Mikel Merino went down under a challenge from Japanese captain Maya Yoshida. A video assistant referee review confirmed that Yoshida had made a fair challenge forcing Ortega to overturn his earlier decision.

This livened up the contest as Spain doubled its effort in search of the goal while Japan employed a fine counter-attacking game to challenge the opposition defence on multiple occasions. Japan goalkeeper Kosei Tani showed good reflexes in the 76th minute when he denied Rafa Mir from taking advantage of an opportunity at the Japanese goalmouth. After a couple of minutes the Spanish custodian Unai Simon had to be real quick in blocking a powerful punch from Takefusa Kubo. The lack of sharpness in the attacking third continued to dog both the sides in the extra-time, which remained barren till the 115th minute before Asensio, who came in as an 83rd-minute replacement, conjured the outstanding finishing by curling the ball through a crowd of Japanese defenders into the far corner of the net.

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Spain will now have to get the better of five-time World Cup winner and the reigning Olympic champion Brazil to win the gold medal.

The results:

Men’s semifinals:

At Kashima: Mexico 0 (1) lost to Brazil 0 (4) on penalties; At Saitama: Japan 0 lost to Spain 1 (Marco Asensio 115).

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