With less than 24 hours to go before they take their bow
against Haiti at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, the Japanese team are
looking forward with excitement to the moment they take to the
Soccer Only Field in Gwangyang.
If the number of journalists present at the Blue Samurais' last training session is anything to go by, Japan are clearly one of the contenders for the title. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the photographers had their sights firmly set on one young player: Yoichiro Kakitani. At just 17, the Cerezo Osaka forward is already a fixture in the J.League. Best player at the AFC U-17 Championship in Singapore, Kakitani is carrying the hopes of a nation with him as Japan prepare for their assault on the world crown.
Such is the level of expectation surrounding Kakitani that when he limped out of training, dark looks were immediately being exchanged by the team management. "If we have to do without him, it will be a bit like France losing Zidane," explained a Japanese journalist. Fortunately, young Yoichiro emerged all smiles from the dressing room just minutes later, and sat down to talk with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Yoichiro, tell us about the injury you just picked up in training.
Yoichiro Kakitani: I don't think it's serious. I felt a twinge so I preferred to stop so as not to make it worse.
So with just a few hours to go until your first match, it
looks like you can't wait to get on with it. What's the
atmosphere like in the squad?
The atmosphere is great and we're all in great physical condition. We know the big kick-off is just around the corner and we just want to get on with it. We want to show the world what Japan can do. And on a personal note, I want to show I have what it takes on the world stage.
With your J-League experience,you're one of the most experienced players in the competition. What's your role in the side?
I'm just another member of the squad. The team is what
matters. Having said that, the experience I've picked up in the
league does help me to talk to my team-mates both on and off the
Japan have been drawn in Group D alongside France,NigeriaandHaiti. What do you think of your opponents?
It's a tough group. If those sides have qualified for a World Cup, that must mean they are strong. We know every match will be like a final. And finals are there to be won!
How have you been preparing for your match againstHaiti? Japan have always had their own fast, attacking style and on Sunday we will try to play attractive, free-flowing football against Haiti. And not just against Haiti either. We will attack and try to score goals against all our opponents.
On the subject of tactics, tell us about your coach Hiroshi Jofuku.
He is a great coach. We can put down our qualification for this World Cup to him, because without him we would never have managed it. Japan are lucky to have him as coach.
Last June,Japanplayed in the Eight Nations tournament inKoreaand lost 5-0 toNigeria. Is that result in the past now?
I didn't play in that tournament, but like all my team-mates, I certainly remember the result. You can't forget matches like that but we have to put it behind us when we face them again, because it will be another match entirely.
You are very confident in your team's chances. Which Japanese players will stand out at this tournament?
The team will stand out, that's all. We are ready.
At just 17 you are already an idol for many fans of the
J.League. Who are your idols?
I'm a big fan of Cristiano Ronaldo. And I really like the famous Japanese actress Aibu Saki.
What areJapan's aims at this FIFA U17 World Cup?
We are aiming to make it to the knockout stage. If we manage that our aim is simple: to reach the final.
And how do you see the final panning out?
I see Japan beating Spain 1-0
Who will score the winner?
Why not me? (smiles)