It was a match that made the footballing world sit up and take notice.
Spain, heavy favourite for the Olympic gold medal and with three members of the senior squad that had won the European Championship (two of whom scored in the final) just a month earlier, was humbled by a Japan side that hadn't rated a mention as a medal contender.
An aggressive defensive display that gave the Spanish little time and space to play, a disciplined tactical approach and an ability to carve out chances seemingly at will surprised many. If the finishing had been better it could easily have been a three or four-goal margin rather than the one that separated the two sides.
This was one of the most emphatic announcements made in recent memory and the celebrations post-match (although somewhat over the top) showed just what it meant to Japan – vindication that two decades of work was finally bearing fruit; that now it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any nation.
Continuing on from the senior side's impressive displays in South Africa and Qatar and the U-17’s fantastic showing at last year's World Cup (where it defeated Argentina and drew with France in the Group stage only to lose 3-2 to Brazil in the quarter-finals), Japan has arguably been the most impressive nation at the 2012 Olympic Games thus far.
It breezed through a difficult section without losing a match and was one of only two nations to progress to the knockout stage without conceding a goal.
Many are now suggesting Japan has progressed from being merely a dominant Asian nation to becoming one of the planet's genuine heavyweights.
A country with a fantastic league that is proving itself as the region's leading producer of talent – the recent moves of Shinji Kagawa, Hiroshi Kiyotake and Hiroki Sakai bear testament to that – and one that is producing players of a technical standard that are on a par with any of their peers.
Yet barely 20 ago there was no professional league in the country, only a handful of players had ventured outside Japan, the nation had never qualified for a World Cup nor won an Asian Cup.
Japan now is outplaying nations with more than a 100 years head start. So how did it happen?
To help fill in some of the gaps I spoke with Tom Byer, an American who finished his playing days in the old JSL with Hitachi in 1986 and who since has dedicated his life to working with grassroots football in the country.
Byer brought the Coerver program to Japan in 1993 and in 2008 established his own company, T3, with a focus on technical excellence at the grassroots. Just this week he was appointed by the Chinese Football Association to run its nationwide school development program.
He was a regular fixture on Japanese TV for more than a decade where he would run a daily segment focusing on technique and still contributes to a range of media outlets – all aimed at improving the ability of young Japanese players.
Click here for the transcript of a wide ranging interview in which Byer outlines just how Japanese football has progressed and how it plans to keep improving.
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