South Africa suffered a 1-0 defeat to hosts Japan in their first game at the Olympic Games at the Tokyo Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
The hosts had a dangerous free kick in the sixth minute after Thabo Cele committed a foul on the edge of the area. But Takefusa Kubo’s free kick attempt was straight into the wall.
It was a tentative start from the young South Africans, who have a had difficult build up to the games. The experienced Japanese team, who came into the game as strong favourites, took early control of the possession, as David Notoane’s team struggled to keep hold of the ball.
After a good clearance in the 13th minute from Luke Fleurs, Japan had their first shot at goal, but Ronwen Williams was able to make the save from Daichi Hayashi. Hayashi would shoot into the side-netting a minute later.
The attacking momentum was with Japan, and on a number of occasions they threatened in the final third, and South African captain Tercious Malepe made a handful of key tackles to deny them.
Hayashi had another chance for Japan in the 31st minute, but his shot lacked power and Williams saved easily. A minute later the SuperSport United keeper made an excellent save to deny Koji Miyoshi. From the corner that followed Hayashi had the ball in the back of the net, but the forward was ruled off-side.
Kubo had another chance from a free kick in the 45th minute, and it went narrowly wide of Williams’ goal.
Team SA were awarded a corner in stoppage time, and from the clearance Luther Singh tried a first time volley but it went wide. It was their first attempt at goal in the match.
It was a first half dominated by Japan, but they were frustrated by the South African defence,and at the break it remained goalless.
A great last ditch tackle from Fleurs three minutes into the second denied the hosts an opener, and they went close again in the 50th minute, but Kubo’s effort went into the side-netting.
Williams pulled off a superb save in the 56th minute as he denied Hayashi from point blank range.
Japan finally took the lead in the 71st minute as Kubo, gathered the ball on the right of the box, cut in and fired past Williams with his left foot.
Singh had a great chance for a leveller in the 77th minute, but he rushed his shot and it went straight at goalkeeper Kosei Tani.
While there were a few positive moments in the closing minutes, the South Africans will be disappointed by their offensive performance.
A free kick in stoppage time gave South Africa hope a late equaliser but Teboho Mokoena’s effort was high and wide.
In the other Group A game played today, Mexico hammered France 4-1. South Africa will play France next.