TIANJIN, China – Japan coach Yasuharu Sorimachi on Tuesday dismissed suggestions that his team could struggle in the absence of overage players, and says his players are fighting fit and ready for battle in their Beijing Olympic opener against the United States.
Sorimachi has been forced to bring a squad comprised of only Under-23 players after Vissel Kobe refused to release Yoshito Okubo and Gamba Osaka deadball specialist Yasuhito Endo had to withdraw with a viral infection.
But Sorimachi, speaking two days ahead of the team’s Group B meeting in Tianjin, insists his players possess the battling qualities required to pull through when the going gets tough.
“We are in good condition and will be looking to play our brand of soccer and get three points,” said Sorimachi.
“We may not have any players that are over 23 but we have a strong solidarity. This solidarity is the most important thing and it will push us toward victory.”
Japan was far from convincing during qualifying and Sorimachi came in for stinging criticism from the local press for making a number of surprising selections in his final 18-man Olympic squad.
But an impressive 2-1 win over Australia and a blood-and-guts performance against defending Olympic champion Argentina in recent friendlies have boosted morale ahead of Japan’s bid for a first Olympic medal since winning bronze at the 1968 Mexico Games.
“Japan is a collective team and has played together for an extended period of time. They understand each other very well and as a group, as a team, that is the biggest strength of the national team,” said U.S. coach Peter Nowak.
The Americans are considered to be the outsiders in a group that also features European Under-21 champions the Netherlands and Nigeria, the first African team to win an Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Goals have been hard to come by and Nowak’s team managed only six goals in five games earlier this year in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, where it was beaten by Honduras in the final.
But Nowak said: “Everyone is trying to point out the bad things but look at the positive side. As a coach you are concerned that the team is not always creating chances but during the qualifiers we did create a lot of chances.
“We have to forget about big scoring games in today’s football. It is not possible because the games are so tight and then every situation, every free kick and corner kick is valuable to the game and can change the game completely. We have to look at the game over 90 minutes and try to win it. If it is a goal it doesn’t matter how it comes.”
He added: “Look at Euro 2008. Germany played against Portugal, who are very fluid, but the Germans scored three goals from free kicks and nobody complained about that.”
The U.S. team’s 19-year-old midfielder Freddy Adu, who has long been tipped as a star of the future, represents a major threat to the Japanese. But Nowak teased reporters when asked where he would be starting his ace, saying, “In a position he can be successful.”