New Zealand reach first men’s quarter-final, face in-form hosts
Mexico return to form as Egypt leapfrog into the last eight
Richarlison and Takefusa Kubo among the players to impress
On a day on which everything was up for grabs, eight teams seized the moment and grasped a spot in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020 quarter-finals. Some, such as six-goal Korea Republic, unblemished Japan and unbeaten Brazil, cruised through in style, while others endured nervy moments before prolonging their stay. New Zealand, for example, eked out a goalless draw against Romania that secured a historic last-eight berth – the first at world level for any men’s team from the country, at any age level. Côte d’Ivoire edged out Germany, meanwhile, and Egypt – without a goal before today – rose from the bottom of Group C to leapfrog both Australia and Argentina.
Japan arrived at this stage as the only team yet to drop a point, and needing just a point to be sure of qualifying. But there was no sense of playing it safe as they swept aside France with a devastating display of attacking football that resulted in their biggest-ever win in this competition. Mexico, meanwhile, bounced back from their defeat to the hosts with an equally accomplished victory to earn a last-eight date with Korea Republic.
With all four teams starting today’s action on three points, a tight, nervy conclusion was anticipated. One game – Romania’s goalless draw with New Zealand that sent the latter through on goal difference – fit that script. The other deviated from it wildly, with Korea Republic uninhibited and hugely impressive in a 6-0 demolition of Honduras in which Hwang Uijo grabbed a hat-trick.
Two points adrift of both Australia and Argentina, Egypt had it all to do going into today’s matches. Spain, on the other hand, merely had to protect their position at the section’s summit. Both got the job done with results that were ultimately no more than either deserved, with the Pharaohs outfoxing the Olyroos and Spain enjoying largely the better of a drab 1-1 draw with Argentina.
The only one of the 16 teams officially eliminated before the start of play, Saudi Arabia belied that status with a battling performance against the holders, losing out only to a late brace from the in-form Richarlison. Germany, for their part, had been playing catch-up ever since that opening-match defeat to the Brazilians and ultimately fell just short, with a point enough to send their Ivorian opponents through to a last-eight meeting with Spain.
RIFU, MIYAGI, JAPAN - JULY 28: Christian Kouame #11 of Team Ivory Coast is closed down by Jordan Torunarigha #15 and Felix Uduokhai #4 of Team Germany during the Men's Group D match between Germany and Cote d'Ivoire on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Miyagi Stadium on July 28, 2021 in Rifu, Miyagi, Japan. (Photo by Alex Livesey - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
RIFU, MIYAGI, JAPAN - JULY 28: Marco Richter #7 of Team Germany is closed down by Ismael Diallo #5 and Max Gradel #15 of Team Ivory Coast during the Men's Group D match between Germany and Cote d'Ivoire on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Miyagi Stadium on July 28, 2021 in Rifu, Miyagi, Japan. (Photo by Alex Livesey - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
Zeroes to free-scoring heroes If first impressions do indeed count, Korea Republic have been the exception to that rule at Tokyo 2020. An opening-match loss to New Zealand is not, it must be said, normally the stuff that runaway group winners are made of. But the Taegeuk Warriors have responded to that early setback in spectacular style, racking up ten unanswered goals against Romania and Honduras. The question now: can they maintain that momentum when they face Mexico in the last eight? Inspiration from an icon Having followed up a hat-trick against Germany with an opportunistic brace today, Richarlison is once again the pacesetter in the Tokyo 2020 top scorers’ race. And with the final set for Yokohama, just as it was at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, he is drawing inspiration from a Seleção legend and his exploits at that hallowed ground. “Ronaldo is our idol,” he said after the 3-1 win over Saudi Arabia. “When we got to the stadium in Yokohama, we came across the photos of him [from 2002] and they’re amazing. We’re all aware [of where the final will be].”
Star man steps up Carrying the hopes of the host nation is never easy. Yet that weighty responsibility has been borne with consummate ease by Takefusa Kubo, the poster boy of Japan’s Olympic medal hopefuls. A scorer of vital goals in each of his side’s opening two matches, the 20-year-old Real Madrid starlet provided another strike as Hajime Moriyasu’s young team advanced with the group stage’s only 100-per-cent record. Kubo goes into a quarter-final against New Zealand as the only male player to have hit the target in all three of his appearances thus far. Pharaohs’ firepower arrives just in time Egypt’s Olympic hopes have been built on a sturdy, savvy and experienced defence, as Ahmed Hegazi told FIFA.com earlier in the tournament. But after two games that produced just a single goal – and that for opponents Argentina – we were still waiting to see if the Pharaohs had anything to offer at the other end of the park. That question was answered emphatically in Miyagi, where a strike in either half – plus a customary clean sheet, of course – took Shawky Gharib’s side through to a last-eight meeting with Brazil.
"Getting to the quarter-finals is fantastic - a great achievement for us as a team and a country. No New Zealand team has played football the way these guys can, and if they keep believing the way I know they can, they can play even better football. It's a team full of potential." Chris Wood, New Zealand striker
Saturday 31 July (all times local)
Spain-Côte d'Ivoire Miyagi Stadium, 17:00 Japan-New Zealand Kashima Stadium, 18:00 Brazil-Egypt Saitama Stadium, 19:00 Korea Republic-Mexico Yokohama International Stadium, 20:00