By Sudipto Ganguly
TOKYO (Reuters) – With two days to go until their opening Olympic soccer match against hosts Japan, South Africa’s coach David Notoane said the health of his players was his main concern after COVID-19 left their preparations in disarray.
Severely depleted by coronavirus infections and withdrawals before they left for the Games, the squad faced further setbacks at the weekend after two players and a video analyst tested positive in Tokyo.
“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.
They 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 his team were grateful for the chance to compete in Japan, given that “the worst-case scenario could have been that we are suspended from the tournament”.
South Africa were looking to fly in reinforcements for their remaining Group A pool 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. We’ve done everything in our power to make sure we come in clean 100%, but it’s also difficult to be in isolation at the moment for most of us.
“…However, as a group, we know that we have an opportunity on Thursday.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by John Stonestreet)