A single second-half goal clinched it at the closing Group D game of the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003, as Japan overturned Egypt in Dubai to top the table. Hassan Shehata's protégés may be smarting from the defeat, but they still make the last 16.
It was the Africans, though, who made it plain they had their sights set firmly on first-place spot right from the kick-off. They blanketed midfield, quick to smother any spark from the young Japanese. The first danger came when Rida Metwaly was put through with only keeper Eiji Kawashima before him thanks to a superb Hosni Abd Rabo move. The follicley-challenged forward's toe-poke was goal-bound, but a retreating Japanese defender's leg deflected the danger (5').
Japan replied with a cross from Norio Suzuki that fell sweetly for Hiroto Mogi to try his luck with a bicycle kick. The number 9 failed to connect as intended and his strike disappeared behind the goal (13'). The move was to be repeated 20 minutes later when it was Mogi this time that swung one over for Daibo Kobayashi, only for the move to die like the first, with the ball far from Sharif Ekramy's goal (32').
Rida Metwaly began to look threatening for Egypt. The striker picked up possession and skipped past his man down the left. Arriving at the area, he laid the ball off for Emad Motab, who could only shoot high over the bar (36'). The forward was to have a fresh opportunity with a header, but this time Kawashima's timely intervention thwarted the danger (41').
The Africans had opted for all-out attack, and Japan were making good use of the space they left behind to launch the counter offensive. Kobayashi sent Yuhei Tokunaga clear with the cutest of passes, but the defender had run out of ideas by the one-on-one with Ekramy and failed to hit the target (43').
With the second half underway, both teams were looking to do damage by moving the ball swiftly and neatly in attack. Kawashima was the first to be troubled. A stinging shot from Ahmed Fathi forced a sprawling save from the Japanese keeper (48'). It was to be busy five minutes for Kawashima, who had no choice but to take off again to block a long-range effort from Abd Rabo (51') before coming out on top in a one-on-one with Motab (53').
When the storm had died down in the Japanese area, the action moved to the middle third. Until Kiyoshi Uhkuma's disciples came close to taking the lead through a strike by substitute Tatsuya Yazawa from outside the box (68').
It was not going to stay level much longer. With the Egyptians piled forward and absorbed in breaking the deadlock, Yazawa dispatched a well-directed long ball for another substitute, Sota Hirayama, to run on to. The 6' 3" forward dodged Ekramy's desperate charge out to meet him with a galloping stride and slotted into an open net with his left (0-1; 79'). The Japanese went barmy while the thousands of Egyptian fans that had packed Al-Maktoum Stadium once again could only look on in subdued silence.
The Africans were bent on clawing their way back into the tie, but time was running out. The Japanese side shut them out with a water-tight defence and marched away with the top spot in the group.
"I'm thrilled with the game we played and the end result. I couldn't say how different this performance was to the defeat against Colombia because every tie is unique. We're just looking forward to the second stage," said the Japanese coach. Sheheta, meanwhile, was "unhappy about the result. We could have won and finished top of the group, but we wasted a lot of chances and now we have to make do with third place. There are things we need to put right," he confessed.