The opening round of Tokyo Olympic fixtures for Group A sees a young South African side taking on tournament hosts Japan. Let’s take a deeper look at what has the makings of an interesting fixture.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Group A
Thursday 22 July
To Win Match
South Africa 7/1
Japan’s Olympic history is that of consistent qualification but they have not been successful in the knockout stages. The Olympic Gold Medal was just out of grasp in the British edition in 2012 where they finished fourth, with the Rio 2016 Olympics being a rather disappointing performance. Japan have not been in the best of form after a disappointing showing in the U23 Asian Cup. The team have since rallied with a 4-0 victory over Jamaica in a hybrid friendly which could add some confidence going into the 29th edition of the summer Olympics.
The manager, Akinobu Yokouchi, was recently employed for the sole purpose of the Olympics, but due to the postponement of the tournament has since been in preparation partaking in many friendlies. With a lot more time with the team, we can expect a well-oiled Japanese squad.
There are a few key figures in the Blue Samurai squad, but overall, their team has always shown cohesion under any coach. The experience in the squad comes in the form of midfielder Reo Hatate, a 23-year-old who plays his football in the J-League for Kawasaki Frontale. Hatate has 23 caps and eight goals over a four-year period in the U23 squad.
The three over-aged players chosen for the squad are Hiroki Sakai from Urawa Reds, Maya Yoshida who will captain the squad and plays his football in Serie A for Sampdoria and lastly, 28-year-old Wataru Endo who is a regular at VfB Stuttgart in the German Bundesliga.
The Japanese are known to be quick on the counter and press from the front at a high pace and will be a dangerous opponent for any team that come up against them, especially as the host nation.
South Africa have successfully qualified for the Olympics for the third time since their first qualification in the 2000 Australian Summer Olympics. Amaglug-glug have registered just one win in six Olympic fixtures, followed by two draws and three losses. Already coming in at the longest price to win the tournament at 250/1, life has not been made easier for the team with much unrest in the camp after five players were dropped due to various medical reasons reported by SAFA.
David Notoane has his hands full with much shuffling happening in the camp and will have to reiterate plans and strategies to a newly filled squad. A successful campaign for Notoane will be that of a first group stage qualification, but coming up against the likes of France, Mexico and Japan in Group A will not make it an easy feat for the 52-year-old manager.
The five players who will no longer take part are Lyle Foster, Fagrie Lakay, Abbubaker Mobara, Sipho Mbule and Keletso Makgalwa, and Notoane and SAFA have yet name their replacements. The players who are still in the squad have still had excellent seasons at their respective domestic clubs.
The only overaged player in the squad is goalkeeper Ronwen Williams who has featured for Bafana Bafana on many occasions. Key figures in the squad are the midfield pairing of Tercious Malepe and Kamahelo Mahlatsi, and that of in-form Baroka FC forward Evidence Makgopa.
Each game in this group is a big ask for the South Africans, and with trouble in the camp ahead of the tournament it will be that much more difficult for the coaching staff and players.
Prediction: Japan Win 7/20
Japan are quick and decisive when in the final third of the pitch and their midfield play build-up is on par with the quality expected from ‘bigger nations.’ However, the Japanese are prone to counter attacks with a high press, coupled with a high defensive line. With the lack of experience in the South African defence, aside from goalkeeper Williams, it will be hard not to concede let alone score a goal.
If you feel you’re able to risk the money and have faith in South Africa, a Double Chance Draw/South Africa at 33/20 is on offer.