Tokyo Olympics: "Players' health paramount," says South Africa football coach

The South African Football team saw three people from its camp test COVID-19 positive in Japan, ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

FILE PHOTO: David Notoane during a match of South Africa U23 in 2019. Ahead of their match against the hosts in the Olympics, he said that his team was grateful for the chance to compete in Japan   -  REUTERS

With two days to go until his team's opening Olympic football match against host Japan, South Africa's coach David Notoane said the health of his players was his main concern after COVID-19 left the nation's preparations in disarray.

Severely depleted by coronavirus infections and withdrawals before it left for the Tokyo Games, the squad faced further setbacks at the weekend after two players and a video analyst tested positive in Japan.

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"My biggest fear at the moment is not facing Japan, but is the well-being, the health of the players," Notoane told reporters on Tuesday at the Tokyo Stadium, saying he had just 17 players left to choose from.

The players returned to training on Monday after a week's absence, giving them very little time to acclimatise to a new environment.

"(We are) coming into ... new weather patterns where it's hot, it's humid. We come out of winter in South Africa," he said.

Frustrated but resigned to a news conference dominated by questions about COVID-19, Notoane said that his team was grateful for the chance to compete in Japan, given that "the worst-case scenario could have been that we are suspended from the tournament".

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South Africa was looking to fly in reinforcements for its remaining Group A matches against France and Mexico, he added.

"Mentally it's very tough," he said. "It's not what we came here for, it's not what we expected."

"...However, as a group, we know that we have an opportunity on Thursday."

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