RIO DE JANEIRO – Japan was drawn with Sweden, Nigeria and Colombia in Group B for the men’s Olympic soccer tournament on Thursday.
Japan’s first game will be against Nigeria on Aug. 4, in Manaus, where the team will also play Colombia three days later. Makoto Teguramori’s side wraps up the first round against Sweden on Aug. 10 in Salvador.
The top two in each of the four groups advance to the quarterfinals starting on Aug. 13. The final will be held at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 20.
Japan, which will be making its sixth successive Olympic appearance, is out for its first medal since the 1968 Games. In London four years ago, Japan lost to South Korea in the bronze-medal match.
“My impression is that it was an even draw all around. There’s no group of death or a particularly easy group for anyone,” Teguramori said.
“I think it’s a good group for Japan because we will need to improve with each game and if we can get through here, we may be able to go all the way.
“I expect us to play six games. The three teams in our group have history with Japan at various age groups and will fuel our motivation.”
Brazil is in Group A with South Africa, Iraq and Denmark.
Mexico, Fiji, South Korea and Germany make up Group C, while Argentina, Honduras, Portugal and Algeria are in Group D.
Despite Teguramori’s optimism, Japan is undoubtedly in a tough group. Both Nigeria and Sweden finished first in the qualifying in Africa and Europe, respectively, and Colombia was runner-up in the difficult South American zone.
Even if Japan qualifies for the last eight, the team will face one of the two teams from Group A, which includes a Brazilian side dying to win the elusive gold medal on home turf.
Japan will also have to endure a fair amount of traveling, with Manaus being the venue farthest from Brazil’s two hubs, Rio and Sao Paulo, and Salvador the second farthest.
Yet it appears Japan is, at least, commanding the respect of the three other teams.
“The three teams we will be playing all come from different football cultures,” Colombia coach Carlos Restrepo said. “Japan are disciplined, focused and outstanding technically.”
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