Japan’s “Road to Paris” is in full swing.
The Japan Under-22 National Team, coached by Ko Oiwa, won a 4-1 friendly against the Mexico U-22 National Team at Phoenix Rising Stadium in Arizona, USA, on Friday (July 15). Japan will face the U.S. U-22 National Team on the 18th at the same venue.
Japan has its work cut out for it. The friendlies come just eight days after the final of the Hangzhou Asian Games. It was scheduled early. Japan has also split its roster. All of the players who competed at the Asian Games were left out of the squad against the United States. Only striker Kotaro Uchino was a late addition as an injury replacement. Uchino was the player who scored just two minutes after kickoff against South Korea.
The reason is clear. It’s to set their sights on the 2024 Paris Olympics. Japan made a similar move two years ago when preparing for the Tokyo Olympics on home soil. Japan sent its U-21 players to the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games. It gave younger athletes a chance to gain experience. The young athletes, dubbed the “Tokyo Generation,” went on to finish fourth at the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021. This time around, it’s more of the same. Japan is sending a number of university players to the Hangzhou Asian Games to give them a chance. They will play away from home immediately afterward.
For now, Japan has its sights set on qualifying for the 2024 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar next April. The tournament serves as the final Asian qualifier for the Paris Olympics. The top three teams will qualify directly for the Olympic Games. Fourth place will be decided by the fourth-place finisher in the African qualifiers and an intercontinental playoff.
Looking ahead to the trip, Oiwa said, “We have been playing European countries. This time, we are playing Mexico and the United States, who have different styles. I think we need to improve the quality of our principles and style. We have new players this time. I think we need to ‘level up’ our speed and technical skills. We have a limited amount of time before the U-23 Asian Cup. We need to evaluate individuals properly. I want to create such an activity.”
The Japan A team has been on the rise recently. Hajime Moriyasu’s side won a 4-1 friendly against Canada on Sept. 13. The team has been on fire, scoring 22 goals in its last four games. As of September, they were the only Asian team to crack the top 10 of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) rankings. It was ranked 19th. Japan continues to be a force to be reckoned with not only in the A team but also in the age groups.스포츠토토
South Korea could face Japan at the U-23 Asian Cup next April. But preparations for the tournament are far from complete. Hwang Sun-hong, head coach of the Olympic team, said, “We will work harder to develop Korean soccer in the future. I would also like to give the players a lot of praise and encouragement. Japan and Uzbekistan prepare for the tournament for nearly three years. We only have a few calls, and even those are uncertain, so there is definitely a difference. We need support to prepare hard. The duration of the A-match is obvious. Even during winter training, you need to have the opportunity to train for two or three weeks to be competitive. If that doesn’t happen, it can be very difficult.”