Ko Itakura helps Japan to Olympic semi-finals amid Celtic speculation

By David Walton

August 1, 2021

Just hours before Celtic would go on to crash and burn at Tynecastle, reported target Ko Itakura was showing nerves of steel in Japan.

Yesterday was a night to forget for the Hoops after losing their Premiership opener to Hearts. Again, the spotlight was on the Celtic defence which continues to be short despite the debut of Carl Starfelt.

Yet one of their apparent targets, Itakura, moved one step closer to being a national hero. Japan’s 0-0 draw with New Zealand went to a penalty shootout on Saturday morning, with Itakura smashing home his own spot-kick and helping to seal a 4-2 shootout success.

The result ensures Japan’s progression to the semi-finals of the Olympics this summer. Itakura and co will now face Spain on Tuesday for a spot in the gold medal match.

Celtic have reportedly opened talks with Man City about signing Itakura on loan this summer [Daily Express]. However, it’s been reported in today’s Sunday Post [print edition, 01/08, back page], that the Hoops will need to wait until after the Olympics for Itakura to make his decision.

Ko Itakura helps move Japan into semi-final stage

Itakura was brought on at full-time heading into the nervy extra-time period. The Japanese international produced a strong 30 minutes before slotting home a fine penalty. In terms of his individual display, he couldn’t have asked for more.

As for Celtic, the Olympics finishes on August 7th. Therefore, you could be talking another week before Itakura makes his mind up. Potentially another week before he could actually play also.

It’s not ideal, but that’s the risk you take in going for a player performing at the Olympics. Being a centre-back, however, Celtic will surely want another recruit in the door as soon as possible.

Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

The Hoops had defensive frailties to thank for their defeat to Hearts last night. Two balls into the penalty box resulted in goals for Robbie Neilson’s men, despite the inclusion of Carl Starfelt.

If Celtic want Itakura, we need to be prepared to play the waiting game. In theory, the Hoops should have enough to overcome their next flurry of fixtures before Ibrox at the end of the month.

But the sooner we get another centre-back in, the sooner we can cross that off the to-do list.

In other news, Confirmed: Celtic-linked Ryan Gauld completes move to Vancouver Whitecaps