Japan and South Korea have been slowly improving their national programs and domestic leagues since the early 1990s. They have been respectable in every Olympics tournament in its current format, but did not break into the medal rounds until this year. This has been the best tournament of the under-23 era for either team, and unfortunately, one will have to go home without a medal.
South Korea has never medaled in men's soccer at the Olympics, and this is their first ever trip to the semifinals. Japan won bronze once, back in 1968, when they impressively defeated Mexico in Mexico City. This is Japan's first trip to the semifinals since that bronze medal effort.
While Japan has a solid back line, their defense was far from impressive in their 3-1 semifinal loss to Mexico. Their defense will need to be better on Friday against a South Korea team that arguably has more firepower and experience up top than Mexico. The center of the Korean midfield is also very strong, and considerably more athletic than what Japan has to offer in the middle.
With the exception of Japan's shock win against Spain, South Korea has faced and played well against the stronger competition in the Olympics. That makes them the favorites for bronze, but if Japan can beat Spain, it would be silly to count them out entirely.
Game Date/Time: Friday, 2:45 p.m. ET, 7:45 p.m. local
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales
TV: MSNBC (U.S.), Sportsnet (Canada), BBC Three (U.K.)