Beijing, Jan 2 (IANS) Defending champions Japan will look to retain their title in the upcoming AFC U-23 Championship to be held in China next week, and with one eye firmly fixed on their role as host of the Olympic Games in 2020.
The head coach Hajime Moriyasu has called up a squad comprised entirely of players under 21 years old. This means that when the team walk onto the field in the opening game of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship, they will in fact be kicking off a journey which will end in the summer of 2020, reports Xinhua news agency.
“This is our first official tournament since we started working toward the Tokyo Olympics,” said Moriyasu, who led Sanfrecce Hiroshima to J.League titles in 2012, 2013, 2015 and now has been appointed as the man who will build the team that will represent the nation in front of their home fans in 2020.
“The opposing teams will be two years older than our players, but I think we have to play as equals, and I want our players to show their strong spirit and that they really want to win the game,” the Japanese coach added.
The young Samurai Blues lifted the trophy two years ago in Qatar after a dramatic 3-2 comeback in the final against arch rivals South Korea.
Back in the inaugural Asian U23 event in 2014, they were stopped by Iraq in the quarterfinals when they also sent a U21 team. Moriyasu said that this time around, he wants to go further than in 2014.
“Our goal is to play in all six matches. We want to develop ourselves as a team and, of course, focus on winning and getting results in each match,” Moriyasu said.
The star-filled Japan side will fly to China on January 6. They will kick off their campaign four days later when they take on Palestine, before further group meetings with DPR Korea and Thailand.