When Oceania champions Auckland City take to the field at Tokyo's National Stadium on Friday 15 December, all eyes will surely turn to former Japan international midfielder Teru Iwamoto, making a welcome competitive return to his homeland. The appearance of the popular playmaker in his side's play-off for fifth place with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors is likely to cause mixed feelings among the watching fans, who may find themselves watching Iwamoto's last-ever professional game.
Joining the fray as a second-half substitute in the Kiwi outfit's opening-day defeat against African champions Ahly Sporting Club, Iwamoto immediately brought his immaculate set-piece skills and clever link play to the fore. Encouraged by this heartening cameo, many local fans are hoping to see the well-regarded midfield man get his name on the scoresheet against Jeonbuk. Not one to get carried away, Iwamoto refused to make any rash promises. "I'll just play like I always do," said the former J-League star. Read on for the whole story as FIFA.com brings you an exclusive interview with the man himself.
FIFA.com: You already got some games under your belt over in New Zealand, after having been out for so long with injury. Even so, it must have been special to have been involved in the opening game of the FIFA Club World Cup?
Teru Iwamoto: It certainly was. It brought home to me again what a great competition this FIFA Club World Cup is. The atmosphere in the stadium, the scale of the event, the accommodations, and the security: everything here is on a different level. That said; my plan before the competition was just to take part and play for the sheer enjoyment of it, and those feelings haven't changed. At the Toyota Stadium I got to play in front of Japanese supporters again for the first time in quite a while, and it felt great to hear the fans cheering me on. Actually, since I got back to Japan I've been able to speak on the phone with a number of friends and acquaintances, so all in all I've been feeling pretty relaxed.
How would you rate your performance, once you were out on the pitch?
Until I actually touched the ball I had no idea what was going to happen, but quite a lot of things went pretty well and yes, I did feel like I was doing OK. I had no problems with my reading of the game, and my set pieces seemed to be pretty much the same as ever.
How did you feel the team did against Al Ahly?
We made one or two clear-cut chances, and we put up a heck of a fight in the first half. Of course, there were problem areas too. The midfield could have moved the ball around with a bit more composure. If they'd tried to set a better rhythm, bided their time and then looked for openings, I think that the chances would have come. That may turn out to be the key in the next game, in fact.
How are your own preparations going for the game against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC?
Everything's coming along just fine. We had two training sessions on Tuesday so I'm pretty tired right now but that's not a problem. The hotel's very comfortable and my diet is being properly supervised. Everything's just how it should be and I'm in pretty good physical condition too. Thanks to my personal trainer, the old injury isn't bothering me at all.
I believe you went along to the National Stadium in Tokyo to watch the game between Jeonbuk and Club America.
Korean teams, whether at national team or club level, are always very hard-hitting sides, and I saw that for myself again when I watched Jeonbuk in action. But I've been through some pretty bruising encounters over in New Zealand, so the rough stuff doesn't worry me!
What are your objectives for the next game?
First and foremost, I intend to focus on getting into the box. Obviously, if I have a chance to shoot at goal I'd love to stick one away. But I'm not particularly interested in doing things for the record books; I'd prefer to do something really memorable. I'd like to do something that will make people think "Oh yeah, I remember that guy!" My physical condition's not going to be a factor. I'll be going all out not because it's the Club World Cup but because I'm really up for it. I'll be trying not to be too nervous and tense or, conversely, too timid and sloppy. I just want to go out there and do my best for everyone who's coming to cheer me on!