Tokyo: Hajime Moriyasu’s Japan side begin their quest to deliver the country’s first Olympic medal in 53 years as the tournament hosts take on South Africa in Group A at Tokyo Stadium on Thursday.
The Japanese have their sights sets on winning a first medal since 1968, when striker Kunishige Kamamoto led the country to the bronze medal in Mexico City with a 2-0 win over the competition’s hosts.
Moriyasu’s side have impressed during the build-up to the competition and go into the meeting with the South Africans unbeaten in their last five games, during which time they have claimed some impressive results.
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Japan’s last loss came in March when they slipped to a narrow 1-0 defeat at the hands of Argentina, only to gain revenge against the same opponents several days later with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over the South Americans.
Big wins over Ghana and Jamaica followed before another success against Honduras at the start of July.
Japan completed their preparations on Saturday with a strong performance against Spain, one of the gold medal favourites, taking a one-goal lead into the half-time break before drawing 1-1 with the Europeans.
Moriyasu will be tempted to field the same line-up that started against the Spanish, with Kosei Tani in goal and a back line featuring overage players Maya Yoshida and Hiroki Sakai alongside Takehiro Tomiyasu and Reo Hatate.
Wataru Endo, Japan’s third permitted overage player, will be the favourite to feature in central midfield alongside Ko Itakura behind Japan’s stellar attack.
Ritsu Doan, who scored with a spectacular curling strike against the Spanish, should start on the right with Takefusa Kubo, the team’s creative fulcrum, in the middle and Yuki Soma on the left, with Daichi Hayashi leading the forward line.
The Japanese take on a South Africa squad that has been hit by a pair positive COVID-19 tests among their players, throwing preparations for the country’s second successive Olympic Games appearance into turmoil.
Thabiso Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi returned positive tests soon after the team arrived in Japan last week and the squad’s ability to train has been adversely affected as a result.
Japan and South Africa have also been drawn to face Mexico and France, with the Japanese taking on the Mexicans on Sunday before facing France three days later.
Japan v South Africa
Venue: Tokyo Stadium
Kickoff: 20:00 (UTC+9)
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