By Nick Said
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa’s soccer team coach David Notoane said his side were caught in the eye of a coronavirus storm and likened their situation to waiting for a guillotine to fall ahead of their Tokyo Olympic Games opener against hosts Japan on Thursday.
The squad was severely depleted by COVID-19 infections and withdrawals before they left South Africa, and has now faced further setbacks after players Thabiso Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi, along with video analyst Mario Masha, tested positive for the virus on arrival in Tokyo.
Notoane is now fearful that that daily testing at the Games could rob him of more players before their opener as more potentially come out of the incubation phase of the virus.
"We are there on the guillotine at the moment and we have to find a way to escape it," he told reporters on Monday. "You are not even sure who will be eligible for your (starting) 11 because of the situation we are in, testing every day.
"Our key player (Mahlatsi) tested positive, we were building our game-plan around him. Our job has become more difficult. But at the end of the day we have to put up a team on Thursday to face up to the might of Japan."
Notoane said it was inevitable that South Africa's COVID-19 challenges will catch up with them in what is already a difficult pool that also contains France and Mexico.
"This storm can just swallow you, that is the fight we are going to have in terms of the off-field influences. Our biggest opponent is not Japan to be honest, it’s the outside factors that are playing out.
"Because it has become about more than football. Physically, we are at a huge disadvantage against a team that is highly athletic."
Notoane rued the fact that his side, who returned to training on Monday after a week without being on the pitch, will limp into a contest that will have the eyes of the watching world fixed on it.
"Their (Japan's) physical readiness compared to us will be a key issue. It will make a huge difference. We basically lost seven days and that is hard to recover from.
"I hope we will give a good fight because, apart from winning, the spirit of the Olympics is about coming together to participate and give your best performance in representing your country."
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Ken Ferris)