CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — With two quick counterattacks, Japan ended Brazil's chances of finally winning that elusive Olympic gold medal.
Japan beat the Brazilians 2-0 on Friday in the women's football tournament, setting up a semifinal against France and moving closer to adding Olympic gold to the World Cup title it won last year. It created few chances, but strikers Yuki Ogimi and Shinobu Ohno converted the two that presented themselves, midway through each half.
Brazil dominated for much of the game but still endured its worst Olympic finish ever in a tournament many expected it to win.
"To see our team have so many opportunities and not score, and see the other team playing only at the back and scoring two goals is a tragedy," Brazil coach Jorge Barcellos said. "The football that Japan presented didn't deserve to win. We will have to work a lot during the next four years before 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. We want to get the title there."
Playing in front of 28,000 people in Cardiff, Brazil settled more quickly, its height and power causing problems for the Japanese. The team won five corners in the first 10 minutes, the final one whipped into the box by five-time world player of the year Marta and only just cleared away thanks to a one-handed punch by keeper Miho Fukumoto.
Brazil's best chance fell to Renata Costa, who fired over the bar from close range after a good cross from the left by Rosana. Japan struggled to keep possession, but when it did, it passed the ball quickly and accurately, and began troubling the Brazilian defense after 20 minutes.
The goal came at 27 minutes after Fabiana fouled Nahomi Kawasumi just inside the Brazilian half.
Homare Sawa, who took the FIFA award last year off Marta, hit the free kick quickly and appeared to take the Brazilian defense by surprise. The ball picked out Ogimi running toward goal. Ogimi took four touches before sidefooting the ball past a motionless Andreia into the right-bottom corner of the net.
Brazil, unchanged after the break, pressed forward, but Marta was booked at 49 minutes for raising her boot close to the head of Mizuho Sakaguchi. A few minutes later, Sakaguchi was a given a yellow card for knocking down Formiga as she tried to break into the Japanese penalty area. Marta's free kick flew just wide of the right post.
Brazil, which lost to host Britain 1-0 in its third group game, came close to an equalizer at the hour mark: Christiane rose up between two defenders in the Japanese box to a get a free header on goal, but her effort went over.
As the South Americans hunted for a goal, they left gaps that Japan exploited for its second at 72 minutes.
Ogimi picked up a ball kicked from defense on the halfway line and beat a Brazilian player before playing a long, looping pass to Ohno, who was in space in front of the penalty area. Ohno appeared at first to have taken one too many touches with the ball, but cut back inside to chip over Andreia, the ball bouncing into the net off the underside of the bar.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki said he thought his team now had a good chance of reaching the final.
"It was our first time playing against Brazil at a major tournament and the players could have been fearful of them. But we knew their stamina would decline in the second half, so I told the players to get the ball forward quickly, and it worked," he said.
Brazil has finished second in the last two Olympics, losing to the U.S. both times in the gold-medal match. It was fourth in the 1996 Atlanta Games and in the 2000 Sydney Games, meaning it triumphs in women's soccer are limited to South American championships and gold medals at the 2003 and 2007 Pan American Games.
"We had to play our game, but Japan had more efficiency and chances," said striker Christiane. "The problem in our country is that people don't understand women's football. We don't have the long-term projects as they do in Japan."
All 18 members of the Japanese squad were in Germany last year when Japan won the World Cup in a penalty shootout against the United States. It has not won a medal at the Olympics in its last three attempts, but has been getting closer, finishing fourth in Beijing.