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Football fans get kick out of Nagai's speed

Kensuke Nagai, right, celebrates after scoring the first goal in Japan's quarterfinal victory over Egypt at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England.

Publication Date : 06-08-2012


Kensuke Nagai's blistering speed gave the crowd plenty to be excited about as Japan trounced Egypt in the Olympic men's soccer quarterfinals.

With the crowd going wild, Nagai took a pass from midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake at the 14th minute and slammed the ball into the empty net as the Egyptian goalkeeper and a defender collided.

With the 3-0 victory at Manchester United's famed Old Trafford ground on Saturday, Japan clinched an Olympic semifinal berth for the first time in 44 years.

The moment Nagai scored he pumped his fists in triumph before his teammates jumped on him in celebration.

However, soccer fans did not have much of an opportunity to appreciate Nagai's speed after that, as the forward suffered a thigh injury just before or after the goal. He was taken off the field on a stretcher.

He made a brief return later, but soon crossed his arms to tell the bench he could not continue. The 23-year-old Nagai was substituted by Manabu Saito in the 20th minute.

According to the Japan team, Nagai had a bruise on his left thigh, but it was not serious.

Just like an antelope

Nagai has always been a fast runner and is able to reach full speed shortly after taking his first step.

When he was a high school student, he could run the 50 metres in 5.08 seconds.

"His calf muscles were very soft, like those of an antelope," said Masahi Fukunaga, a soccer coach when Nagai was a third-year student at Kyushu International University High School in Kitakyushu.

Nagai spent five years in Brazil when he was a primary school student after his father was posted to that country.

He used to play soccer in his bare feet on the street with his friends. After returning to Japan, he joined a boys' soccer club in Kitakyushu.

During his high school days, his school's soccer club shared the same ground with a rugby club, and they alternated using the ground every 90 minutes. When the ground was not available, he used to run up a steep 150-metre-long slope from the ground to the school building many times to strengthen his leg muscles.

When he entered high school, he was lean-bodied and about 160 centimetres tall. Due to his hard training and strong appetite to support it, he grew to 177 centimetres and developed strong muscles, which helped him improve his soccer talent.

At the national high school soccer championships in the winter of his third year, Nagai scored two goals in the first match, drawing a great deal of attention.

After entering Fukuoka University, the soccer club he belonged to won the national university championship.

Nagai's dribbling and passing techniques, in addition to his speed, served him well in scoring or setting up goals. His play earned him the nickname "No. 1 forward" among university players.

"I'll do something at the Olympics. Maybe we'll get a medal?" Nagai told Fukunaga with his inherent cheerfulness before the Olympic Games started.

Nagai's hopes are closer to realization at the London Olympics, where the Japanese men's team has moved another step toward its first medal since the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

A new dimension

At Fukuoka University, about 150 people including soccer club members watched Japan's game against Egypt on a large TV screen.

After Nagai showed his extraordinary speed in scoring the first goal of the game, the viewers kept yelling his name.

"Normal players reach their top speed at the fourth or fifth step after they start running, but Mr. Nagai is in top gear from the first or second step," a 21-year-old junior said. "His speed is from a different dimension."


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