While the Nadeshiko were the beneficiaries of a fortuitous draw for the 2012 Olympic Games Women’s Football Tournament, the Under-23 Samurai Blue had no such luck as they were drawn to face pre-tournament favourites Spain in Group D.
The four seeds, two from the UEFA confederation (Spain and Great Britain) and one each from CONMEBOL and CONCACAF (Brazil and Mexico) were allocated two places in Pots 1 and 2 respectively, to ensure that no teams from the same region could meet in the group stages. Japan were placed in Pot 3.
|Pot 1||Pot 2||Pot 3||Pot 4|
|United Arab Emirates||Gabon|
The first fixture against Spain will likely decide the outcome of the group, and a minimum of a draw would enable them to go into two ties with Honduras and Morocco in the knowledge that two wins could see them emerge victorious in Group F. However, even taking a point of the reigning European Under-21 champions will prove incredibly difficult, the Spanish side unbeaten for since March 2011. Morocco, the CAF Under-23 Championship runners-up, will also pose a stern test for Takeshi Sekizuka’s men, and in Abdelaziz Barrada and Adnane Tighadouini possess a central midfielder and attacking midfielder who will pose questions of many defences. Pim Verbeek, the Under-23 Atlas Lions head coach, also spent time managing in Japan, having overseen both Kyoto Sanga and Omiya Ardija, but whether his experience and knowledge can be measured against the progress of Japanese football at an Under-23 level is open to question, having not been involved in Japanese football domestically since 2003. Topping the table, however unlikely, would see them through to likely a quarter-final against Belarus, but finishing behind Spain would suggest a very difficult meeting with Brazil.
In remarks to the Chunichi Shimbun before the draw had taken place, Kashima Antlers striker Yuya Osako said “Spain is a country you want to play, if you want to be ambitious”, while Horishi Kiyotake added that “Drawing Spain or Brazil would be great. It provides motivation to play against the best teams”. FC Tokyo and Under-23 goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda, speaking after the groups had been settled, stated:
We can’t think we can afford to lose to Spain and then try and beat the other teams because this is our first match. There is going to be pressure on them for sure as well. I don’t know much about the other teams and for all I know, they could be better than Spain but in the first game we have to go at full power.
Gonda is particularly relishing the match-up with Manchester United stopper David De Gea:
We don’t have many opportunities to play against teams like this, and for me personally it will be great because I could be up against De Gea and that would be something special. Rather than think, ‘We’re in trouble here,’ I am looking forward to it.
Group D Fixtures
|26 July 2012
|Spain||vs||Japan||Hampden Park, Glasgow|
|29 July 2012
|Japan||vs||Morocco||St James’ Park, Newcastle|
|1 August 2012
|Japan||vs||Honduras||City of Coventry Stadium, Coventry|
I will be at Glasgow’s Hampden Park for Spain versus Japan on 26 July, from where I’ll be providing live updates on the match via my Twitter account, with a full match report to follow. Please see the “About” page for details.