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Japan Under-22 national team

Aiming for the 2012 Olympics

Japan's Under-22 team is aiming for its fifth straight appearance in the Olympic Games, which will take place in London in 2012. The team is being guided by Takashi Sekizuka, who also works as an assistant to Japan senior team coach Alberto Zaccheroni.

Japan Under-22 national team

First gold
Only two months after the arrival of Sekizuka in September 2010, the young Japanese side captured their first crown when they won gold at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
Due to a tight schedule of domestic matches and senior team games, Sekizuka had a short period of time to train with his players in the run-up to the Asian Games. But the squad overcame their difficulties and grew throughout the tournament.
After starting with a 3-0 win over China, Japan secured a spot in the knockout stages with a 2-0 victory over Malaysia in their second group game. They won their group after beating Kyrgyzstan 3-0 and then cruised past India 5-0 in the Round of 16.
The "Young Samurai" then beat Thailand 1-0 in the quarterfinals, edged Iran 2-1 in the semifinals and held off the United Arab Emirates 1-0 in the final to win the Asian Games gold medal for the first time ever.
As an added bonus, forward Kensuke Nagai was the tournament's top scorer with five goals, and Japan also won the women's title.

Preparing for Olympic qualifiers
In 2011, the Under-22 side forged ahead with preparations for Olympic qualifiers (scheduled for June), starting off with a two-game tour to the Middle East in February.
After Saudi Arabia cancelled a friendly match, Japan fell 3-0 to a second-string Kuwaiti side. The Japanese youngsters then beat their Bahraini counterparts 2-0 in Manama on February 12.
Sekizuka's side was scheduled to play Uzbekistan in Tokyo on March 29, but the game was called off following the massive earthquake that hit the northeast part of Japan on March 11. As a result, the team reversed its schedule and visited Uzbekistan for a two-game friendly series.
They lost the first game 1-0 but beat their hosts 2-1 in Game 2.

Japan in past Olympics
Japan enjoyed their greatest Olympic success in the 1960s, reaching the quarterfinals in the 1964 tournament in Tokyo and winning the bronze medal four years later in Mexico.
The success of the 1968 team was a huge boost for the non-professional Japan Soccer League, but the national team couldn't sustain its form and two decades later, a new impetus was needed for Japanese football.
It came in the form of the nation's first professional league, the J. League, in 1993.
Meanwhile, the Olympic tournament was changed to feature under-23 teams from 1996. Japan then qualified for the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, their first appearance in the Olympic football tournament since 1968.
The Young Boys in Blue, guided by Akira Nishino, stunned the world by beating Brazil 1-0 in their opening match. They lost 2-0 to Nigeria and then edged Hungary 3-2 for a 2-0-1 win-draw-loss record. However, it wasn't enough to qualify for the next stage, as they finished third on goal difference behind Brazil and Nigeria.

Last Eight in Sydney
Four years later in Sydney, Japan made it to the quarterfinals under Japan coach Philippe Troussier.
They rallied past South Africa 2-1 in their opening game and went on to down Slovakia 2-1 before losing 1-0 to Brazil. That was enough to finish second in their group and advance to the next round, but in the quarterfinals, the Japanese youngsters fell to the United States 5-4 on penalties following a 2-2 draw after 120 minutes.
After that tournament, Japan's Olympic campaigns were somewhat disappointing.
In the 2004 Athens Olympics, Japan, guided by Masakuni Yamamoto, started with a 4-3 loss to Paraguay and a 3-2 defeat to Italy, before they edged Ghana 1-0. But they finished bottom of their group with a 1-0-2 win-draw-loss record.
Four years later in the Beijing Summer Games, Japan, under the guidance of Yasuharu Sorimachi, again bowed out of the tournament at the end of the group stage after suffering three straight defeats: 1-0 to the United States, 2-1 to Nigeria and 1-0 to the Netherlands.

A new start
Aiming for their first Olympic medal since 1968, former Kawasaki Frontale boss Takashi Sekizuka was appointed as coach in September 2010. Success soon followed in the Asian Games in China.
The Japan Under-22s were drawn to play against Kuwait in the second round of the Asian qualifiers for the 2012 London Olympics. They will face the Kuwaitis at home on June 19 and away in Kuwait on June 23. The winners of that matchup will advance to the third round of Olympic qualifiers. This round will consist of three groups of four teams, who will play in a home-and-away format from September 21 to March 14.
The winners of each group will qualify for the 2012 Summer Games in London, while the three best runners-up will play against each other over a five-day period in the latter part of March at a neutral venue for the right to play an African candidate in the final qualifier for the remaining berth at the Olympic Games.