After a rather staid third matchday to finish the group stages, the quarterfinal round had a surplus of excitement.
Japan defeated Egypt, 3-0, behind goals from Kensuke Nagai, Maya Yoshida, and Yuki Otsu. Japan controlled the game from the start, and the first goal came early, in the 14th minute. In the 41st minute, Egypt’s Saad Saadeldin pulled back Japan’s Manabu Saito on his way to goal, and was sent off. From that point, Egypt had no way back. The Japanese have yet to allow a goal through four matches, and are one of the tournament’s real surprises. Perhaps it’s no shock, having seen them defeat Spain in their first game, but the Japanese are a definite medal threat, and they might not settle for bronze.
Mexico 4–2 Senegal (after extra time; 2–2 at full-time)
This one was a barn burner! Mexico took a two-goal lead into the 69th minute, behind goals from Jorge Enrique and Javier Aquino, but then, Senegal scored two in a seven-minute span to tie things up, with goals from tournament-leading-scorer Moussa Konate and Ibrahima Balde. The Senegalese poured pressure on the Mexicans after that, but could not find the breakthrough, and the game went to extra time. Mexico were ascendant in the opening stages of the extra period. In the 98th minute, after several chances, Giovani dos Santos put Mexico ahead, following a defensive mistake in the Senegal backline. The goal spurred Senegal into action, but they soon gave up a fourth, in the 109th, following another defensive lapse. Senegal continued to fight and create chances, but could not claw back.
Brazil advanced to the semis, but not without difficulty. Brazil dominated the early stages, but Honduras took the lead against the run of play in the 12th minute, from a Mario Martinez goal. The goal shocked the Brazilians out of their rhythm, and Honduras took control. That is, until the 33rd minute, when Honduras was reduced to ten men, Wilmer Crisanto being sent off for a second yellow card. Brazil made the most of the change and Leandro Damiao scored in the 38th minute. Brazil had more chances, but all was level at the half. After halftime, Honduras came out strong, and took the lead with an excellent Roger Espinoza strike, but the lead was shortlived, as Damiao was brought down in the box. Neymar scored the penalty in the 51st, then ten minutes later fed Damiao for another. Honduras had a chance or two to get back into it, but in the end, Brazil made it through. Brazil are certainly the best attacking team in the tournament, but one wonders if the Brazilians can stop another team from scoring when they need to.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: The English exit a major tournament as a result of penalty kicks. Evidently, including Welsh, Irish, and Scottish players did not save team Great Britain from the same fate. South Korea, faster and more committed, took the lead in the 29th minute, only for Great Britain to be awarded two penalties in the span of four minutes. Aaron Ramsey took both, but only managed to score the first. It was the last goal of regular time, and the two teams played a scoreless half-hour of extra time before heading to a shootout. Ramsey put his third PK of the day away to start things off, but both sides traded goals until Daniel Sturridge, hero of the group stages, missed the decisive kick. Great Britain are out, and Asia has a second representative in the semis, in South Korea.
Looking ahead to the semifinals
The semis will be played on Tuesday, August 7.
Mexico v. Japan (12:00pm, NBCSN/Live Extra)
With Brazil’s defensive struggles, Mexico is looking a decent outside bet for the gold medal, but they have to get by a stingy Japanese team first. Japan have yet to let in a goal, and scored three on a relatively porous Egyptian defense. If Japan hold the ball, they may take Mexico out of their rhythm. I could see this game going to extra time or penalties, but the Mexicans definitely have the capacity to win it in normal time.
South Korea v. Brazil (2:45pm, NBCSN/Live Extra)
Brazil is certainly the heavy favorite in this matchup, but at the same time, the Koreans cannot be discounted. Their energy and organization could certainly trouble the Brazilian defense, but they’ll need to find their shooting boots—they’ve scored only three goals so far, while Brazil have scored three goals every game. That offensive prowess is likely to prove unstoppable.
Brazil is well on course to make the gold-medal game, and Mexico is looking good money to join them. That said, Japan could play spoiler.