With the AFC U-23 Championship now acting as the qualifiers for the men’s football tournament at the Olympic Games, this month’s event in Doha offers the teams the chance to follow in the footsteps of Japan in 1968 and Korea Republic in 2012 when the pair both claimed medals.
Korea Republic’s bronze medal-winning performance at the 2012 Olympic Games in London equalled Asia’s best performance in the men’s football tournament at the Olympiad after emulating Japan’s 1968 success in Mexico City.
Kunishige Kamamoto famously scored twice in the third place play-off against the hosts to secure Japan’s - and Asia’s first Olympic media in football and earn a place in Asian football’s pantheon of greats
And Park Chu-young and Koo Ja-cheol added their names to that list after scoring against Japan at the same stage in London as Korea Republic etched their names in the history of Asian football.
Before Japan’s 1968 triumph, the closest the continent had come to securing a medal was in 1956, when India finished fourth in Melbourne after seeing off hosts Australia in the quarter-finals in a tournament that featured only 11 teams.
Japan then reached the knockout phase on home soil in 1964, but it was in Mexico City that Kamamoto and company excelled, with the forward finishing as the tournament’s top scorer.
Despite the lack of medal-winning success, though, there have been a number of standout performances during the intervening years before 2012 in London.
Iran and DPR Korea both reached the quarter-finals in 1976, while Kuwait matched that feat in Moscow four years later.
Japan famously handed a Brazil team tipped for the gold medal and which featured the talents of players such as future FIFA Player of the Year Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos a surprise 1-0 defeat at Miami’s Orange Bowl in 1996.
However it was not enough to take Japan into the knockout phase of the competition as Akira Nishino’s team ultimately missed out on goal difference behind the South Americans and a Nigeria side that would eventually go on to win the gold medal.
Four years later, it was Japan who went closest again but were denied in the quarter-finals when they were defeated by the United States.
It was Iraq who went almost replicated Japan’s 1968 success when, in 2004 in Athens, Adnan Hamad steered his team from the war-torn nation to the competition’s semi-finals.
Iraq topped their group after finishing ahead of Costa Rica, Morocco and Portugal to qualify for the last eight alongside Korea Republic.
But while Korea Republic fell to Paraguay in the quarter-finals, Iraq saw off Australia to reach the last four and put themselves within striking distance of a medal.
A 3-1 loss in the last four against Paraguay ended Iraq’s hopes of gold before they suffered a 1-0 defeat to Italy in the bronze medal match.
Hosts China, Australia, Japan and Korea Republic all failed to make an impact at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, with the quartet unable to progress to the quarter-finals.
But four years later in London, Japan and Korea Republic both made it through to the last eight while the United Arab Emirates drew huge plaudits on their debut appearance at the Olympic Games.
Korea Republic progressed from a group stage that contained eventual gold medal winners Mexico with an unbeaten record, while Japan finished clear of Honduras, Morocco and Spain.
And Japan continued that form in the quarter-finals as Kensuke Nagai, Maya Yoshida and Yuki Otsu scored to secure a 3-0 win over Egypt.
Korea, meanwhile, needed penalties to edge out hosts Great Britain after Ji Dong-won’s opener was cancelled out by Aaron Ramsey and saw the sides draw 1-1 after extra-time.
But with Asia guaranteed a medal, the semifinals proved one step too far for the continent’s representatives as Japan lost 3-1 to Mexico and Korea Republic suffered a 3-1 defeat to Brazil.
And it was Korea Republic who were able to pick themselves up as Park and Koo netted at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to deny Japan.
But while it was only Asia’s second medal in the men’s football tournament at the Olympic Games, Asia’s women have had more success in recent years with China taking the silver medal at the inaugural women’s football tournament in the United States in 1996.
China reached the final but the hosts proved to be one obstacle too far and United States ran out 2-1 winners.
And Japan matched that achievement by reaching the gold medal match in London only to lose 2-1 to the United States.
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