Spain will take on Brazil for Olympic gold in the men’s football final on Saturday, after Marco Asensio’s extra-time winner ended the hopes of the hosts, Japan.
After a cagey first half in Saitama, Spain were awarded a penalty after Mikel Merino went down under a challenge from Maya Yoshida. The decision was overturned correctly by VAR, but the incident sparked the game into life.
The Japan goalkeeper Kosei Tani did well to race out quickly and deny Rafa Mir, while at the other end Takefusa Kubo’s blast at the near post was parried by Unai Simón. Neither side was able to break through until Asensio struck in the second half of extra time.
The Real Madrid forward picked the ball up from Mikel Oyarzabal on the right and curled the ball beyond Tani into the far corner. Japan poured forward in search of an equaliser but Spain held on to take another step towards their first gold medal in the event since 1992.
Brazil booked their place in the final earlier on Tuesday, beating Mexico 4-1 on penalties in Kashima. Richarlison hit the post for the defending champions in the 82nd minute, but neither team could find a goal inside 120 minutes.
The penalty shootout proved one-sided with the Brazil keeper Santos saving Eduardo Aguirre’s effort after his captain, Dani Alves, had converted his spot-kick. Mexico’s Johan Vásquez hit the post and Gabriel Martinelli doubled Brazil’s advantage, with Bruno Guimarães and Reinier making sure of victory.
Japan will face Mexico in the bronze medal play-off on Friday in Saitama. Mexico’s only men’s football medal is the gold won at London 2012, while Japan have earned a solitary bronze, in Mexico City in 1968.