Japan tops Bahrain, targets London podium

Japan qualified for its fifth successive appearance at the Olympics after securing a comfortable 2-0 win over Bahrain at National Stadium on Wednesday.

The victory naturally prompted great celebration, but there was also an acknowledgment that this is just another step on a longer journey.

"Tonight we want to rest but from tomorrow we must begin our preparations," manager Takeshi Sekizuka said following the match.

The 51-year-old expressed pride in his players' achievement, commending them on the way they had developed to make sure of a place at the Games.

"They grew throughout the qualifying rounds, as a team and also as individuals," he said.

"They shared the same spirit and motivation to achieve the goal of going to the Olympics.

"Players of this age don't get many chances to play internationally but they now have the fantastic opportunity to play on a big stage at the Olympics in London."

Goalkeeper and captain for the night Shuichi Gonda was of a similar mind, insisting that the team need to maintain the focus that has enabled it to progress to the Games.

"We have to take things one game at a time, like we did during the qualification," the FC Tokyo keeper said.

"These players have worked really well together and now we have to do the same thing in London."

The 23-year-old now has his sights set on the podium.

"Once we are there, it is like any competition--we want to win. We have to focus on the highest target from here on out.

"This team is very good and has improved a lot during the qualifiers. I want to see just how good we are."

Bahrain coach Peter Taylor sees no reason why Japan shouldn't be aiming to mix it with the best of them.

"Everything is geared for Japan to do very well," the former England manager said.

"I'm not saying you're going to win the Olympics, but I'm sure that you'll keep improving as a country."

The first half was a fairly tepid affair but two goals in five minutes early in the second period settled things for the host.

The first was steered home from just inside the box by Takahiro Ogihara, and the Cerezo Osaka midfielder explained that a slight change in approach was what created the chance.

"In the first half I didn't get into dangerous areas much because there were too many players there," he said.

"In the second half I thought it would be good to push on a bit more. Then the space opened up, the timing was good and the ball arrived perfectly so it worked out well.

"The result for the team is the main thing but I'm very happy that I was able to score the first goal."

His strike certainly settled the nerves and the mood was lightened further when Hiroshi Kiyotake slammed in the second just before the hour mark.

"I didn't think, I just took the shot," Ogihara's Cerezo teammate said after the game.

"Today I was very motivated so perhaps all that needed to happen was for the ball to hit my foot and my motivation drove it in."

He, too, is targeting more success at the Games.

"We have a ticket to go to London so now we have good energy and power. I want to improve the team and feel that we have to move up one or two levels to truly compete."

To accomplish that, Sekizuka might choose to include some overage players in the squad--up to three are permitted--but Gonda feels either way, the team is well-placed to succeed.

"That is up to the coach and the association. If [overage players] enter then it will be a big plus.

"But we have achieved this as a team so if we go with this squad of players it certainly won't be a negative thing."

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