By Amy Tennery
Harrison, NEW JERSEY (Reuters) – The U.S. and Japan women’s national soccer teams said on Saturday they were laser-focused on preparing for the upcoming Olympics, even as a global coronavirus outbreak threatens the postponement or cancellation of the Tokyo Games.
The two teams are expected to compete in the second of three double-headers in the SheBelieves Cup on Sunday in front of a sold-out crowd, with U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski telling reporters the mood among players was generally calm.
“We had a meeting with the medical staff and we’re keeping a close eye on everything that is going on around,” said Andonovski, who was named head coach of the reigning World Cup champions in October.
“I know that they do their job and they would not put the team in harm,” he said of the Japan team. “We’re just focused on playing, which is our job and they’re focused on their job.”
The coronavirus outbreak has upended numerous major international sporting events and raised concerns that the upcoming Tokyo Games could be canceled, postponed or perhaps even held in venues empty of fans.
More than half of states in the U.S. have reported cases of the coronavirus, and on Saturday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency.
Tournament hosts U.S. Soccer said on Saturday they were “monitoring the situation closely” and were communicating with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as state and local officials.
For Japan’s head coach Asako Takakura, keeping her young squad focused is paramount as they await word on how their home country and host to the Games would proceed.
“All we can do is to focus on the team, team developments and once the country or government makes a decision, then we have to follow it,” Takakura told reporters via a translator, a day ahead of the second leg of the SheBelieves Cup at New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena.
For Takakura, whose team lost 3-1 against Spain in the tournament opener on Thursday and next face England, the playing time is invaluable for her roster.
“The level of women’s football is really, really increasing day by day. However we have to move forward as well,” she said. “I’m not talking about just techniques or something, but physically, mentally, in every area we have to improve.”
Japan faces England at 2:15 pm ET and the U.S. faces off against Spain at 5:00 pm ET on Sunday. The final set of SheBelieves Cup games take place in Frisco, Texas, on March 11.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Christopher Cushing)