Japan's medal quest ends in loss to Mexico in bronze medal match

Mexico's Johan Vasquez scores his side's second goal against Japan in the bronze medal match at the Tokyo Games. AP Photo/Martin Mejia

Japan again fell short in its quest to win its first Olympic medal in men's football since 1968 following a 3-1 defeat to Mexico in the bronze medal match. Once again, it was wastefulness on offense that took the wheels off their campaign at the Tokyo Games.

Despite being on the front foot for the lion share of the game, Japan's failure to apply finishing touches to their attacks after a quick start from El Tri had Hajime Moriyasu's side at the wrong end of the 3-1 result and the likes of Takefusa Kubo bursting into tears at full time.

Early strikes from Sebastian Cordova and Johan Vásquez pulled Mexico into a 2-0 lead before Alexis Vega found the third in the second half. Though Kaoru Mitoma pulled one back for the home nation, Mexico were able to deny the Japanese a late comeback.

And just like Japan denied Mexico on their home soil at the 1968 Games in Mexico City to win their only medal at the Olympics to date, it was the North American side's turn to exact revenge by doing the same against this edition's hosts at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on Friday.

Japan find goals hard to come by yet again

The Japanese defense had conceded just once as they progressed to the knockouts from a group that featured France, Mexico and South Africa. However, it has been their attack that has been a cause of concern for Moriyasu as his players have failed to hit the target enough times.

In 240 minutes of action in the quarter-finals and semifinals against New Zealand and Spain respectively, Japan failed to bulge the net even once despite playing some exciting football.

"We must better ourselves in creating and scoring goals. It's something we need to work on and improve because it has been an issue throughout these Olympic Games. We have to aim for higher quality," Moriyasu said after the defeat to Spain.

However, despite Moriyasu's appeal for improvements in this regard, the trend continued in the bronze medal play-off as the attackers had another day to forget in the knockout stages at the Tokyo Games.

With the backline, otherwise solid throughout the tournament, having an off day against Mexico, it proved to be the perfect recipe for disaster on their home soil for Japan who seemed to have run out of gas after toiling in extra time during both their previous games.

Yoshida, Sakai suffer another Olympic heartache

Despite leading this group of Samurai Blue stars into the semi-finals with aplomb, it wasn't meant to be for Japan's 32-year-old captain Maya Yoshida, and full-back Hiroki Sakai, in Olympics yet again as they lost out on another bronze after the defeat to the Korea Republic at London nine years ago.

As the jubilant Mexican players tossed their manager Jaime Lozano into the air after the final whistle, Yoshida addressed the inconsolable Japanese stars in a huddle and it indeed felt like the veteran was passing the baton on to the next generation to continue the country's quest for Olympic glory.

Many of these players will be back representing the Japanese senior team in the third round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers next month as they look to navigate through a tough group and finish in the top two.

Japan will be up against Australia, Saudi Arabia, China PR, Oman and Vietnam in Group B during the next stage of the qualifier scheduled to begin in September and run through to March of next year.

And the Japanese players will be eager to turn the pain of the Olympics disappointment into results on the pitch on their road to Qatar and beyond.