SA men’s Olympic football team get tough but workable draw for Tokyo Games
South Africa received a relatively favourable‚ though still tough‚ draw for the Tokyo Olympic Games men’s football tournament in July and August.
The Under-23 national team were drawn with the hosts, Japan‚ France and Mexico in Group A in the draw conducted in Zurich on Wednesday morning.
David Notoane’s Olympic team avoided what are arguably the toughest two groups – Group D has Brazil‚ Germany‚ Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia; and Group C has Spain‚ Argentina‚ African champions Egypt and competitive Australia.
The easiest group would appear to be B‚ where South Korea‚ Honduras‚ Romania and New Zealand will compete for the top two places to reach the quarterfinals.
While they avoided the toughest groupings‚ SA will still be up against it to qualify from Group A‚ but they also might feel they have a shout.
France qualified as the fourth-placed finishers at the 2019 European U-21 Championships‚ but the strength of European football means they should still be considered group favourites.
Japan‚ as the hosts‚ will be difficult to beat. Their team‚ though‚ had a disappointing 2020 Asian U-23 Championship‚ finishing last with just a point earned in a draw against Qatar from a group that also included Saudi Arabia and Syria‚ and failing to reach the knockout stage.
Mexico are perennial qualifiers to World Cup and Olympic tournaments. They were champions of the 2020 Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship ahead of fellow Tokyo qualifiers Honduras‚ and are always tough to beat.
Arguably South Africa are the underdogs in all three group clashes‚ but they will also feel they have a chance to win, especially against Japan and Mexico.
South Africa meet Japan at Tokyo Stadium on July 22‚ France at Saitama Stadium in Saitama in July 25 and Mexico at Sapporo Dome in Sapporo on July 28.
SA’s Under-23 team qualified for the Olympics as the third-placed finishers‚ beating Ghana on penalties in the playoff‚ at the 2019 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
In their second successive qualification for the men’s tournament, having competed in Rio 2016‚ and third overall, having also exited in the group stages at Sydney 2000 - South Africa were seeded in Pot 3 out of four pots of the 20 qualified teams for Tokyo.
In 2000‚ SA lost 2-1 against Japan‚ famously beat a strong Brazil 3-1‚ then lost 2-1 to Slovakia to finish third in Group D.
In 2016‚ SA drew their opener 0-0 against hosts and eventual champions Brazil‚ lost 1-0 against Denmark and drew 1-1 against Iraq to finish fourth in Group A.
The summer Olympics were postponed by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic from July and August 2020 to the same months this year.
Normally a men’s Olympic football tournament is for U-23 players‚ plus three overage players. In this year’s Games, due to the postponement by a year‚ the age limit is under-24.
2020 Tokyo Olympics men’s football tournament draw:
Group A: Japan‚ South Africa‚ Mexico‚ France
Group B: New Zealand‚ South Korea‚ Honduras‚ Romania
Group C: Egypt‚ Spain‚ Argentina‚ Australia
Group D: Brazil‚ Germany‚ Ivory Coast‚ Saudi Arabia
South Africa’s programme:
July 22: Japan v South Africa‚ Tokyo Stadium‚ Tokyo
July 25: France v South Africa‚ Saitama Stadium‚ Saitama
July 28: South Africa v Mexico‚ Sapporo Dome‚ Sapporo