Auckland City FC's new signing Takuya Iwata is set to rekindle the New Zealand club's connection with Japan ahead of this year’s FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012.
Auckland's fourth participation at the FIFA Club World Cup will see the club again visit The Land of the Rising Sun, just as they did last year, for a play-off against the J.League champions for the right to reach the quarter-finals, and a possible meeting against the soon-to-be-determined African champions.
With four rounds remaining in the J.League Vegalta Sendai and Sanfrecce Hiroshima are locked together on points in a tense two-horse charge for the crown.
Aside from last season, when Auckland lost 2-0 in a hard-fought encounter against Kashiwa Reysol, the four-time Oceania champions previously competed in Japan at the 2006 edition of the FIFA Club World Cup.
The pacy Iwata, having played for J.League 2 club FC Gifu, is now set to add yet another Nippon connection for the club from New Zealand's largest metropolis.
"I moved to New Zealand for the chance to link up with Auckland and play in competitions like the O-League and Club World Cup," Iwata told FIFA.com. "It’ll be really interesting playing a Japanese side in Japan - it doesn’t feel real yet."
It'll be really interesting playing a Japanese side in Japan - it doesn’t feel real yet.
Iwata's sense of timing was impeccable, with City's All Whites defender Ian Hogg moving to Major League Soccer, leaving a gap at left-back. Iwata is ready to step into Hogg’s vacant slot, but he remains realistic.
"I’m hardly famous back home but the FIFA Club World Cup is a chance for me and all the players in the club to get exposure on a big stage," he said.
"Like most kids, when I was young I wanted to be a J.League player. That was the pinnacle but nowadays Japanese players are playing in leagues all over the world.
"Players have to go to other countries to progress in the professional game. Many of our players go to Europe - Kagawa at Manchester United, for example. The players in the J.League look to these players succeeding overseas and that is who they aspire to emulate."
Although he confesses to not having a preferred team to support in Japan, Iwata is relishing the opportunity to test himself against his country’s best.
"I prefer to play football rather than to watch games," he explained. "But it will be interesting to go back to Japan to play a team from my own country. I think the J.League winners will be expected to go as far as possible by the fans."
Iwata added: "But there are other teams to watch such as Corinthians and Chelsea, so there is more to the Club World Cup."
Iwata made his debut for the club last Sunday as Auckland played out their first competitive match of the season; a 2-1 defeat against Waitakere United in the ASB Challenge Cup.
The league season commences this weekend with a match-up against Canterbury United, with a further three domestic outings for Auckland ahead of their much-anticipated meeting against the J.League champions on 6 December in Yokohama.