The draws for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic soccer tournaments took place on Wednesday with host nation Japan handed challenging draws in both the men’s and women’s tournaments.
The men’s U-24 team was placed in Group A with France, Mexico and South Africa, while former world champion Nadeshiko Japan was grouped with Canada, Great Britain and Chile.
Men’s head coach Hajime Moriyasu, who also oversees the Samurai Blue senior men’s team, praised what he described as a strong group but said it would not detract from Japan’s goal of a first-ever gold medal.
“I think it will be a difficult group. It’s going to be hard to reach the knockout stage … but our goal isn’t just to get through the group stage, it’s to win the gold, so whatever group we’re in that goal isn’t changing,” Moriyasu said.
“I think all of the teams in the Olympics are strong. That opinion hasn’t changed since we learned the groups, but now we have to enter the final stage of preparations.”
Japan’s men will play South Africa at Tokyo Stadium on July 22 before facing Mexico at Saitama Stadium on July 25 and France at International Stadium Yokohama on July 28.
Moriyasu said that the JFA was already in touch with European clubs regarding call-ups and indicated he was leaning toward a full slate of three overage players as part of his 18-man squad.
“We need players who can have an impact on the pitch, who have been core members of the national team, can keep the team steady with their experience and work well with the under-24 players,” Moriyasu said. “I think we’ll absolutely need overage players in order to play our best.”
Nadeshiko Japan, which earned silver at London 2012 behind the United States, will be returning to the Olympics for the first time in eight years after failing to qualify for the Rio Games.
“The players and everyone involved in the team were disappointed to miss out on the 2016 Olympics, and we haven’t forgotten that feeling,” Nadeshiko head coach Asako Takakura said. “The players are happy to be back in the tournament but they know the responsibility they carry.”
The two head coaches watched the draw, which was conducted at FIFA’s Zurich headquarters, together at the headquarters of the Japan Football Association in Tokyo.
“We expected to be excited, but we watched it very seriously,” Takakura said. “We’re both playing strong teams, but it’s great for the players and our teams.
“(The media) likes to use the phrase ‘group of death’ but any group is difficult. Everyone’s playing like they’re in the group of death.”
While Takakura had previously suggested that she would seek Olympic-caliber opponents for her team’s pair of June friendlies, she indicated that those games could serve as preparations for beyond the group stage.
“Of course we want to pick opponents with the group stage in mind, but in the knockout stage there will be even more difficult opponents,” Takakura said.
“We have to understand what we’ll struggle with and think about how we’ll manage. What’s going to be important is uniting as a team. I hope we’ll be able to overcome the difficult circumstances we’re all in and play together.”
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