SAKAI, OSAKA PREF. - Nadeshiko Japan is expecting nothing less than a fiery challenge from Australia as the women’s Asian qualifiers for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics get underway on Monday.
“Tomorrow is the first of a series of tough games that are lined up,” Japan coach Norio Sasaki said on Sunday, ahead of the six-team competition in Osaka that also includes China, North Korea, South Korea and Vietnam.
“It’s crucial in a tournament like this to catch the wave, so this game has been on our calendar all along and (we) have prepared for this. Australia are getting better every year and we will be ready for them.
“The most important thing — and the only thing — is to win tomorrow night.”
The top two finishers in the round-robin tournament will book a place for Rio, with Japan facing Australia on opening night. Also on Monday, North Korea faces South Korea and China takes on Vietnam.
The fixture list is punishing, with the teams virtually playing every other day until March 9 in what will be a true survival of the fittest.
“It’s a very tough tournament for all the teams here, possibly the strongest confederation in the world,” Australia boss Alen Stajcic said. “On the back of the performances in the World Cup, we’re confident we’ll be one of the two teams to go through to the Olympics.”
Australia will rekindle its Women’s World Cup rivalry with Japan, who came out on the winning end of their quarterfinal encounter last summer in Canada.