Samurai Blue set sights on Olympic gold but is that a realistic goal?

Hosts Japan have set their sights on winning football gold at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

And it isn't the Nadeshiko, the women's team who took home silver at the 2012 Games, won the FIFA Women's World Cup a year before, and are constantly ranked among the top sides in the world, that are aiming high.

Instead, that bold target is coming from the men's team -- the Samurai Blue -- whose best-ever finish at the Games was fourth place in London in 2012, and whose senior team currently ranks 28th in the world.

"I have told my players that we are aiming for a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics," said Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu. "We have not only set the gold medal as our goal but, I believe if our players demonstrate the best of their ability, Japan can compete as equals with the best teams in the world."

Japan are a proud footballing nation, consistently regarded as the best in Asia, who have showed in the past they can match it with highest-level opposition.

Back in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, they were moments away from eliminating Belgium -- currently ranked first in the world -- before they threw away a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 in extra-time in the Round of 16.

But are they good enough to do it across several games in a tournament format to emerge as champions?

Had this been the World Cup, with every team sending their strongest squad, perhaps it would still be a bridge too far.

Yet, with the men's football tournament at the Olympics primarily an Under-23 (Under-24 this edition due to its one-year delay) tournament with teams allowed just three overage players, the gulf in class is greatly reduced.

Apart from their trio of overage members, world champions France do not boast another player in the squad who has been capped at senior level.

Fellow European powerhouses Germany fare slightly better with Benjamin Heinrichs their sole player under the age of 24 that has featured for the senior team, while 2016 gold medallists Brazil boast just four.

On the contrary, 12 of Japan's under-24 squad members have tasted senior international football and it has not been by accident either, with Moriyasu having used their guest appearance at the 2019 Copa America as a valuable opportunity to give his young charges some top-level exposure.

Several of them are also now plying their trade in some of Europe's top leagues, with Takefusa Kubo a highly-rated prospect at Real Madrid, Takehiro Tomiyasu catching the eye in Serie A for Bologna, while Ritsu Doan boasts experience in both the Eredivisie and Bundesliga.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle standing between Japan and the gold medal is a formidable-looking Spain outfit.

A notable portion of the 14 under-24 players with senior caps did earn a sole international appearance after being drafted in as replacements for a friendly against Lithuania back in June, after several positive coronavirus cases among the regular senior team.

However, the Spanish Olympic charge will also be boosted the likes of Pedri, Dani Olmo, Unai Simon, Pau Torres, Eric Garcia and Mikel Oyarzabal, who all featured prominently for the side that recently reached the semi-finals of Euro 2020.

Despite their lofty ambitions, there is plenty of work on Japan's hands if they are to deliver on their gold-medal target, yet it is not something that has not been done before.

Nigeria did just that at the 1996 Games when they saw off the likes of Brazil and Argentina to finish first, with that team -- including stars like Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Celestine Babarayo and Tijani Babangida -- going on to be lauded as their country's golden generation

There is no way of knowing if this Japan side possess the potential to one day be mentioned in a similar breath. That part usually comes after anyway.

For now, they have done the first part in setting their sights high. The next bit will be actually delivering over the new couple of weeks once the Games get underway.