How things go in football. Having been replaced in Spain’s starting line-up by Rafa Mir after a poor performance in the previous game, Marco Asensio came on to score the extra-time winner in the semi-final against Japan, setting up La Roja for an Olympic final showdown with reigning champions Brazil.
Asensio is a player of great class with a cool temperament. The Real Madrid midfielder is not without his deficiencies, but he is capable of producing moments of magic like the one conjured up on Tuesday, where his beautiful curling strike in the 115th minute broke the nil-all deadlock. Spain are now guaranteed at least silver but will give their all for gold in Saturday’s 'luxury' final against Brazil.
Coach Luis De la Fuente stuck with the same starting players aside from Asensio. Mir's inclusion forced Mikel Oyarzábal to the right side. But despite this change, the match was similar to the previous games: the opponent's waiting for their chances as Spain controlled the game and dug a little deeper.
In the first half there was a brief moment of excitement: a deep pass from Mikel Merino that left Mir one-on-one with Japan goalkeeper Kosei Tani, who made the save of the game. At the other end, Japan made approaches towards goal, where the quality of Take Kubo and his partner Ritsu Doan shone through. The pair are capable of producing good combinations when isolated in attack. But overall it was a bland game in which it was hard to call a winner.
Asensio makes his entrance
Things finally came to life late in the second half. Spain showed some verve through Carlos Soler and Javi Puado, but the goal did not come. Asensio made his entrance in the 83rd minute and the game went to extra time with the teams on equal footing. Moncayola was brought on to add some height and strength as Spain searched for the winner.
The first period of extra time belonged to Spain, but Japan caused panic for four minutes in the second period, with several shots and rebounds in Unai Simon’s box. After that storm, the momentum swung back to Spain and with minds already on penalties, Asensio stepped up to score the wonder goal winner. It was an agonizing and laboured victory but the team is where it should be in the final.