TODAY is the big day for the South African men’s Under-23 team who be will launching their presence at the Tokyo Olympic Games with a clash against host nation, Japan, at the Tokyo Stadium this afternoon (1pm).

David Notoane’s side have been ravaged by an assortment of challenges, ranging from injuries to Covid-19 positive tests that have dealt them a massive blow.

Among those who had to be momentarily withdrawn included Kamohelo Mahlatsi, Thabiso Monyane and video analyst Mario Masha, who all tested positive.

Notoane was lost for ideas this week on who he will field for the opening match against Japan due to challenges that he’s facing in the team.

Led by coach Hajime Moriyasu and skipper Yuta Nakayama, the Japanese, who did not play in any qualifiers as tournament hosts, are hot favourites in Group A – which includes Mexico and France.

In eight weeks, the Japanese have already played five friendlies, while South Africans are yet to secure a training match, due to cancellations and fears of Covid-19.

On Saturday, the Japanese held their Spanish counterparts to a goalless draw, which is after walloping Honduras 3-1 in the Kirin Challenge Cup (U-24), and they also gave Jamaica a 4-0 thrashing in Aichi, Japan.

On 5 June, they defeated Ghana 6-0 in a friendly.

In four matches, they have scored 14 goals, which will prove too much for the South African lads who last played an official match in November 2019 for a third place finish in their U-23 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), beating Ghana 6-5 on penalties after a 2-all draw.

Among players to watch in the Japan team are Kubo, Endo, Ueda and Doan.

However, SA U-23 captain Tercious Malepe said they will not be intimidated and will go against all odds to reach the knockout round, for the first time in history.

Malepe said they would have to put all their challenges aside and focus on the Games, as they kick off today.

“We’ll work hard. We want to do it for the teammates who are currently on quarantine after testing positive,” said Malepe.

“We are here to play football, not to complain. We have to focus and put our minds into the job at hand.

“These (testing positive) are the situations we cannot control.”