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Japan U-21s, Nadeshiko look toward future

Kyodo

Makoto Teguramori’s men will kick off Japan’s Asian Games campaign on Sunday when they take on Kuwait in the soccer competition.

Five days ahead of the opening ceremony of the 17th Games, the Japanese under-21s will look to defend the title they won four years ago in Guangzhou, China, where they capped a double with their women’s counterparts Nadeshiko.

Japan is in Group D along with Iraq and Nepal. The top two in the eight groups qualify for the knockout stage, with the final set for Oct. 2 at Munhak Stadium.

Teguramori’s side tuned up for the Sept. 19-Oct. 4 Games with a training match against an All-Japan university select side on Wednesday, but failed to come away with victory, settling for a 0-0 draw.

Teguramori, who has been entrusted with the task of qualifying Japan for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, insists what matters is how they go into the Asian Games, not how they fare in warm-up games.

“What I said to them before the game is that we’re preparing for the Asian Games and that the emphasis should not be on the game itself,” Teguramori said Wednesday.

“What’s important at this stage is that the players grasp the team concept, that they’re fit. It was good to get a game in because it’s been a while. In June, we lost to this university side so I like to think we’re making some progress.”

Women’s world and Asian champions Nadeshiko will follow the men’s team out a day later against China. Norio Sasaki’s side has also been drawn with Jordan and Taiwan in Group B.

While Sasaki has left out veterans like Homare Sawa and the overseas-based players like Chelsea striker Yuki Ogimi, his party of 18 nonetheless remains strong, led by captain Aya Miyama, Nahomi Kawasumi and Azusa Iwashimizu.

The Asian Games is a crucial stepping stone for Japan ahead of the Women’s World Cup in Canada in June, and Sasaki wants to give the younger players one final opportunity to showcase their qualities before the summer.

Nadeshiko should be more than equipped to win a second straight championship, and will finish their preparations with a friendly on Saturday against Ghana in Yamagata Prefecture.