Football in Japan – particularly the women’s game – is a sport in which the nation can genuinely challenge for Olympic gold medals in London.

Yesterday in Coventry, England, the draw for the group stage of the London Games was made, and the teams found out who they will have to face on their road to possible glory at Wembley on Saturday 11 August.

Nadeshiko Japan – as the women’s team are known – will play Canada, Sweden and South Africa. Canada and Sweden are ranked 5th and 7th in the world respectively, with South Africa outside the world’s elite top-25. Japan, despite their World Cup win in 2011 remain in 3rd place in the latest rankings, behind Germany and the US. The Nadeshiko – captained by world player of the year Homare Sawa will feel they have a realistic chance of a medal, but the US – with group games against France, Columbia and North Korea – will be hoping to make up for their 2011 penalty shoot-out loss to Japan in the 2011 World Cup in Germany, and please a nation missing its men’s team in London.

Argentina claim gold in Beijing

The men’s team – hoping for a first medal since taking bronze in the 1968 Mexico City Games – face Spain, Honduras and Morocco. On this side of the draw world rankings are less relevant, with teams limited to just two 0ver 23-year-olds and youth taking precedence. Japan have a strong team, but face stiff competition from the Spaniards, who will hope to add an Olympic title to their European Championship and World Cup wins of 2008 and 2010.

Great Britain face Senegal, UAE and Uruguay, and with Argentina, gold medallists at Athens and Beijing, not qualifying, the home nation will feel they have a chance in London. Matches start on July 25 – two days before the opening ceremony – with the final on August 11.

Look out for an interview with Nadeshiko captain Homare Sawa and fellow olympian, swimmer Kosuke Kitajima, in the May issue of Weekender magazine!

Men’s draw:

Group A: Great Britain, Senegal, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay

Group B: Mexico, South Korea, Gabon, Switzerland

Group C: Brazil, Egypt, Belarus, New Zealand

Group D: Spain, Japan, Honduras, Morocco

Women’s draw:

Group E: Great Britain, New Zealand, Cameroon, Brazil

Group F: Japan, Canada, Sweden, South Africa

Group G: USA, France, Colombia, Korea DPR