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Aug. 7, 2008
U.S. holds off Japan for 1-0 Olympic victory

By Michael Lewis Editor

Midfielder Stuart Holden, seen here battling Japan’s Yuto Nagatomo, scored the only goal in the USA’s 1-0 win.
Midfielder Stuart Holden, seen here battling Japan’s Yuto Nagatomo, scored the only goal in the USA’s 1-0 win.
Photo by Tony Quinn
Tianjin, China -- The U.S. men's soccer team accomplished something Thursday night that the American women couldn't 24 hours prior in their Olympic opener: they won.

Riding Stuart Holden's second-half goal, a defense that stretched but never broke and some poor finishing by the Japanese, the U.S. recorded a 1-0 victory.

The U.S. (1-0-0) have a fighting chance of reaching the quarterfinals, securing three points in what many Olympic observers feel one of the most difficult groups at the Summer Games. The win gave the Americans first place in Group B, pending the outcome of the Netherlands-Nigeria match in the second game of the doubleheader at Tianjin Stadium. Japan (no points) is 0-1-0.

The Americans take on the Netherlands here Sunday before playing the Nigerians in Beijing next Wednesday.

It was the Americans' first Olympic victory since a 3-1 win over Kuwait in the 2000 Sydney Games that clinched their group title. It also was the first time since 1984 -- five Olympics ago -- that they had won their opening match of the competition.

Holden's goal broke a pair of scoring droughts.

The U.S. had not found the back of the net in 425 minutes, or since Sammy Ochoa's goal in the 3-2 loss to Turkey in the Toulon Tournament May 21. The scoreless streak included six games -- four consecutive shutouts and parts of two others.

Holden's personal scoreless streak was much longer. He hadn't scored for the Houston Dynamo in 1,151 MLS minutes this season, spanning 16 league games, although he had tallied in SuperLiga.

The U.S. attacked down the right flank early in the second half as former Red Bulls and fullback Marvell Wynne beat defender Yto Nagatomo. He sent a low ball toward the middle of the goalmouth, but captain and defender Hiroki Mizumoto deflected the ball toward the top of the box right to Holden. Holden took a step and then fired a 16-yard shot to the lower left corner past goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa for a 1-0 American lead.

U.S. coach Peter Nowak was just happy to walk out of Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium with a win.

“The first game in this kind of tournament is very tight and you have to compete,” he said. “I’m very proud of them, because the first game is never easy and you never know how it is going to be . You train for three weeks and you try to find the right recipe about how the team will play. It was important to get the three points.”

In an attempt to shake things up and add a little spark to the U.S. lineup, Nowak made a one major change, sitting down former Red Bulls forward Jozy Altidore for midfielder Robbie Rogers. The formation, which struggled to score goals at last week's ING Cup, went from a 4-4-2 to a a 4-5-1, with Brian McBride as the lone striker and Freddy Adu as a withdrawn forward.

Holden had the Americans' first real scoring opportunity in the 14th minute when he fired a curving, 28-yard shot to Nishikawa, who moved a it to his right to catch the ball.

Japan missed a fabulous opportunity to take the lead in the 21st minute. Atsuto Uchida sent a low ball from the right side across the goal mouth that goalkeeper Brad Guzan dived for, but failed to grab. The ball went to an open Masato Morishige, who had an open goal to shoot at it from three yards. But somehow he flubbed his chance as his low shot traveled wide left. Realizing he botched a golden chance, Morishige fell to the grand onto his knees and held his face in his hands in disbelief.

Midfielder Shinii Kagawa tried to make something out of nothing as he motored with his room down the right flank in the 28th minute. He sent a low ball into the middle of the goalkeepers box that Guzan managed to smother.

Five minutes later, Adu, who had been smothered by Takuva Honda for most of the match, took a pass from Stuart Holden, kept it in the air and managed to volley a shot over the crossbar that had the crowd and even Nowak applauding.

The Japanese had another close encounter in the 40th minute as Atsuto Uchida, overlapping from his right fullback spot, sent a pass to a sliding Kagawa in front of the net. Guzan, however, managed to swipe the ball out of bounds for a Japan corner kick.

Speaking of corner kicks, Japan was denied one in stoppage time right before halftime in an unusual officiating decision. The Japanese forced one as defender Michael Parkhurst knocked Yohei Kajiyama's shot out of bounds. They were awarded a corner but before Keisuke Honda could
take it, referee Badara Diatta (Senegal) whistled twice to end the first half.

Japan could only kick itself for the loss as it missed yet another opportunity in the 83rd minute. This time Keisuke Honda had Guzan dead to rights thanks to a Nagamoto left-wing cross. But Honda somehow headed the ball over the net and not into it.
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