Suffering was the name of the game in Rio today as Japan secured a place in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 despite succumbing to Poland in the last game in Group A. After finishing level on points with the Poles and the USA, the Asian challengers sneaked through by virtue of having scored more goals in the games between the three teams.
Going into today's decider Hiroyuki Torikai's team knew they could afford the luxury of losing by three goals and still qualify. They reckoned without a mighty performance from Boguslaw Saganowski, however, and trailing 8-4 with just 22 seconds left on the clock, it looked as if the Japanese had fluffed their lines. One man to keep his nerve amid the tension was Takeshi Kawaharazuka, and it was his left-foot drive that ensured a happy ending for the men in blue.
Despite securing a ticket to a quarter-final showdown with France, coach Torikai was a concerned man: "We honestly didn't know we'd gone though on goals scored," he admitted. "That's why we weren't celebrating that much at the end. The fact is I'm worried because we played so poorly."
His side certainly struggled to impose themselves as the Poles dominated virtually from start to finish, with Boguslaw Saganowski turning in a magnificent five-goal display. After a tight first period that ended all square at 1-1, Jacek Ziober's men slipped through the gears in period two as they slammed five goals past a helpless Kazuo Ogawa. The Poles continued their domination in the final period and looked certain of qualification until a fateful defensive slip gave Kawaharazuka the chance to pounce.
"It's incredible," bemoaned a disbelieving Ziober. "We made all the running, we led throughout and yet, because of one individual error, we're out of the tournament. Overall I'm pleased with the way we played today, but to lose out on a quarter-final place so close to the end is cruel. If you ask me, we deserve to be in the next round."
Thursday's encounter with France gives the Japanese a chance to avenge last year's semi-final defeat at the hands of Les Blues, and the poker-faced Torikai is certain he has the formula for success. "We'll be looking closely at our performance today to see where we can improve and show just what Japanese football is capable of," he vowed.
Referees: Jose Luis da Rosa (URU), Christian Hauben (BEL), Erick Chavarria (CRC)