U-23s braced for Japan

Ramatsiyi Moholoa

Ramatsiyi Moholoa

The South African under-23 national soccer side start their Qatar Eight Nations Cup with a tough game against Japan in Doha on Sunday.

Kick-off is at 5.30pm South African time.

Just like South Africa, Japan will be using the tournament as part of their preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics qualifiers.

In addition for the South Africans, it will also be a dress rehearsal for the All Africa Games qualifiers, which start next month.

The only disappointment for South Africa is that they were not able to get all their regular players for the Doha tournament.

Local and overseas clubs refused to release the players, arguing that the tournament was not sanctioned by the world governing soccer body.

Japan have been together for almost a year now and are one of the pre-tournament favourites with South Korea.

The South African team's project director, Barney Kujane, said the tournament will help increase their pool for their Olympic team.

"The second round of the Beijing Olympics starts with a home game against Uganda. The coaches want to have three or four players for every position.

"The most important thing for now is that all the players must be exposed to international soccer," said Kujane.

South Africa are in Group A with the hosts Qatar, Japan and United Arab Emirates. South Korea, Egypt, Iran and Belarus are in Group B.

l Ramatsiyi Moholoa will cover the tournament in Qatar as a guest of Safa and Sasol.