The "Theatre of Dreams" hosts a pair of unlikely medal hopefuls in men's soccer Saturday when Japan faces Egypt in the Olympic quarterfinals at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England.
Japan, which finished 15th in the 16-nation field at Beijing in 2008, finished atop Group D with seven points, riding an opening-match upset of medal favorite Spain to two victories and a draw. The Blue Samurai were one of two teams not to concede a goal in group play, capped by a scoreless draw versus Honduras on Wednesday as both teams progressed to the round of eight.
"We've come a lot closer to a medal after finishing top in our group," captain Yoshida Maya told his federation's official website. "We started our first game against Spain really well and that helped us shut down the opposition in all three games in this stage. We also have good concentration in the backline and in goal. I think we are giving away less opportunities to our opponents."
While Maya has adroitly marshaled his back line, the Japanese have struggled to score without midfielder Shinji Kagawa -- arguably their best player who bypassed the Olympics to prepare for his first season with Manchester United. Yuki Otsu and Kensuke Nagai netted the only goals in group play for the Blue Samurai, who placed 17 shots on goal in the three matches.
Japan has not reached the semifinals since 1968, when it won a bronze medal for what remains the high-water mark for the Asian continent in Olympic men's soccer.
While Japan's defense was not breached in group play, slowing Egypt's offense will prove to be a stern challenge. The Baby Pharaohs finished runner-up to Brazil in Group C with four points and also second to the Selecao in goals scored in group play with six.
Egypt, making its first Olympic appearance since 1992, advanced to the knockout round for the first time since 1984 with a 3-1 victory over Belarus on Wednesday. Mohamed Salah scored his third goal of the tournament in the 56th minute to snap a scoreless draw before Marwan Mohsen and captain Mohamed Aboutrika -- one of three overage players on the roster -- added goals to secure the needed three points to advance to the quarterfinals.
"We came here to win a medal," midfielder Hossam Hassan told FIFA's official website. "The win against Belarus kick-started our tournament and I think we can win it. People haven't seen what this team is capable of yet, the best is yet to come."
While this is the first Olympic match between the teams, Egypt came away with a 3-2 victory over Japan in group play at the Toulon Tournament in France in May. Mohsen scored in the 37th minute of that match for the Baby Pharaohs, who squandered a two-goal first-half lead before Salah Soliman netted in the 73rd minute.
"We lost to Egypt in the Toulon tournament, but we are confident in how we've developed our game," Japanese center back Suzuki Daisuke said.
Egypt has never won an Olympic men's soccer medal, placing fourth in Amsterdam in 1928 and Tokyo in 1964.
The winner of this match will play the Mexico-Senegal winner in a semifinal Tuesday at Wembley Stadium in London.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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