Practice paying off for magic Momiki
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“I’m still not 100 per cent,” Yuka Momiki told FIFA.com after Japan’s 9-0 defeat of Mexico. Bearing in mind the midfielder had scored one of those goals from a superb free-kick and set up another, also from a set-piece, it was hard not to wonder just what she might be capable of when fully fit.

The pint-sized dead-ball specialist went into the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 still recovering from an injury that would keep her out of Japan’s first game against Brazil. She was on duty for the whole 90 minutes against New Zealand, however, and needed only one half against the Mexicans to show what she can do with the ball at her feet.

“I work on my free-kicks a lot,” she said, a little bashfully. “I stay behind after training every day and get some practice in.”

Practice makes perfect, as her performance against Las Aztecas last Sunday showed. Lining up a free-kick on the edge of the Mexican box with 11 minutes remaining, Momiki curled the ball round the wall and just inside the far post to put her side 8-0 up. Moments later she helped complete the rout, floating another pinpoint dead-ball delivery from a little further out right on to the head of Mizuki Nakamura.

We’ll want to beat them if we make it [to the final] because their U-20 team beat ours in the semi-finals of the World Cup we just hosted. We’ve got a score to settle.
Japan's Yuki Momiki on Germany

There is more to the 16-year-old’s game than just set-pieces, however. Like her idol David Silva, Momiki is a midfield dynamo who likes to drift into wide positions and then cut inside to pick out team-mates with a killer final ball. And like the Spain and Manchester City star, Momiki is left-footed but can also use her right to great effect.

Yet when asked if the Little Nadeshiko model themselves on Silva and his colleagues in the Spain team, she had this to say: “We do like to swap positions and move the ball around a lot, that’s true, but we focus more on developing our own individual skills.”

Someone to look up to
Momiki is just one of the many members of Hiroshi Yoshida’s side to impress at Azerbaijan 2012, following in the footsteps of her NTV Beleza team-mate Mana Iwabuchi, who collected the adidas Golden Ball at the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand four years ago.

Still only 19, Iwabuchi went on to represent her country at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ and at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, making her the perfect role model for Momiki. The No18 certainly seems to be on the same fast-track as Iwabuchi, breaking into the first team this season at a club where the likes of Homare Sawa also nurtured their skills.

Though Japan fell on penalties to England in the quarter-finals at New Zealand 2008, everyone is tipping them to reach the final at Azerbaijan 2012, not that Momiki is getting carried away with all that: “In football you can’t predict how games will go and we have a long way to travel to reach the final.”

If the Japanese do get there, however, the midfielder would like nothing more than to face Germany: “We’ll want to beat them if we make it that far because their U-20 team beat ours in the semi-finals of the World Cup we just hosted. We’ve got a score to settle.”

Before they can entertain such thoughts, they have to get past Ghana in Friday’s quarter-final.

Looking ahead to the game, the amiable Momiki said: “Our stats were amazing in the group phase (three wins, 17 goals scored and none conceded), but group matches are entirely different to quarter-finals and semis. We’ll be approaching the game a little bit differently.”

The Ghanaians will too, no doubt mindful of the need to avoid giving away free-kicks around the box, where Momiki will be waiting to take full toll.