SOUTH Africa were made to rue several missed chances in the opening Group D match of the 2017 FIFA U20 World Cup in South Korea after allowing Japan to come back from behind and eventually losing 2-1 at the Suwon Stadium on Sunday.
In a high tempo match, both sides gave it their all but the difference between the two sides was South Africa’s failure to defend a well taken lead allowing the Far East nation to sneak home two second half goals and the precious three points.
The first opening minutes were frantic as both sides threw everything into the match.
It was Japan however who first asked probing questions while Thabo Senong’s charges relied on swift counter attacks to fashion their own chances.
Amajita’s Keletso Makgalwa went on a solo effort but was unable to beat Japan goalkeeper, Ryosuke Kojima who came off his line just in time to clear the ball.
South Africa came good however, moments later after a good long ball from anchor-man, Thabo Cele which was well controlled by Grant Margeman who made no mistake with a powerful effort to give South Africa the deserved lead.
The goal proved to be a confidence booster for the South Africans who began to boss the game through quick passes with Cele being the instigator of most build ups.
Amajita’s talisman, Luther Singh should have grabbed the second for his side after another pin point pass from Cele but saw his effort go narrowly wide of target after some good work in the box.
Another golden opportunity for the second went begging for the South Africans in the 17th minute, this time following a quality cross from left back Malebogo Modise that found Makgalwa unmarked in the box but the Mamelodi Sundowns striker failed to direct his header which went agonisingly wide.
Just a minute later, South Africa were let off the hook after Ogawa hit the woodwork from inside the box to the relief of the South Africans who went into the break with a lead.
Coming into the second stanza, the Japanese wasted no time in putting their opponents on the back foot in search of the equaliser and were duly rewarded in the 47th minute after Ogawa’s clever back heel from a low cross trickled over the line following an attempted save by Mondli Mpoto.
The goal proved to be the turning point for the Asian champions as Thabo Senong’s men lost control of the match, allowing Japan to dictate play for the better part of the opening 20 minutes of the second half.
Ogawa remained a constant threat to the South African defence after a brilliant through ball saw him one on one with Mpoto who did well to come off his line to clear the ball from the danger man on the hour mark.
Singh came close to reclaiming the lead for the South Africans in the 65th minute after a neat interchange of passes just outside the box but his well taken shot was saved by the keeper.
The winning goal eventually came in the 65th minute for the Japanese thanks to Ritsu Duon’s clinical finish after a good build up that caught the South Africans off guard.
With time running out and a loss very much in sight for Amajita, Senong introduced Portugal based striker, Liam Jordaan and Platinum Stars striker Kabomelo Kodisang who both injected some life into the Amajita attack.
The South Africans continued piling pressure with a number of good build ups and long range efforts but could not find the much-needed equaliser as the Japanese defence stood firm.
Amajita will now go back to the drawing board in preparation for their second Group D match against Italy on Wednesday.