Morocco-Japan Preview

BY foxsports • July 28, 2012

After scoring a major upset in its opener, Japan can clinch a place in the Olympic quarterfinals with a Group D victory over Morocco at St. James' Park in Newcastle, England on Sunday.

The first day of the tournament Thursday was highlighted by Japan's 1-0 victory over gold-medal favorite Spain. Yuki Otsu scored in the 34th minute and forward Kensuke Nagai contributed to the win by drawing a red card on Spanish defender Inigo Martinez.

"It was an important win for us," captain Maya Yoshida said. "Spain are a very strong team in the group and we played well against them. We worked really hard and we will enjoy our victory. We can get a lot of confidence from this."

Japan is on top of the group with three points. Morocco and Honduras have one point after they drew 2-all Thursday, with Spain in last.

"This is still the first match and we still have far to go to even make the knockout round, but I look forward to playing Spain again later in the competition," coach Takashi Sekizuka told the London Olympics' official website.

Japan is seeking its first Olympic medal since earning a bronze in the 1968 Mexico City Games.

While it will clinch a spot in the knockout round with three points, Morocco cannot advance or be eliminated Sunday no matter the result of the Spain-Honduras game, the second half of this doubleheader at Newcastle United's home stadium.

Morocco coach Pim Verbeek should be familiar with Japanese soccer. The veteran's previous jobs before taking his current position were with the national teams of Australia and South Korea - Japan's prime AFC rivals.

Verbeek said he has nine Muslim players fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and was impressed with his players' stamina under the circumstances Thursday. The Moroccans were forced to play with 10 men after left back Zakarya Bergdich received a straight red card in the 71st minute.

Two players had trouble providing urine samples after the game due to their fasting.

"I had not an idea how they would perform over 90 minutes," Verbeek said. "That they could play for 60, 70 minutes, I was convinced about that. To be very honest, if you see the situation, I can be very proud of the way they played."

Abdelaziz Barrada scored the lone goal of the first half for Morocco, which allowed the next two before Zakaria Labyad salvaged a point by scoring in the 67th minute.

"In the second half, we gave two goals away in five minutes, two times we lost the ball, but they showed good spirit for coming from 2-1 back to 2-2," Verbeek said. "It's very important that you don't lose your first game. If you have 1-0 at halftime, normally we don't give that away."

Wednesday is the final day in Group D, with Japan meeting Honduras at the same time Morocco faces Spain.

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