By reaching the quarter-finals here at Mexico 2011, Japan are enjoying their joint-best campaign at a FIFA U-17 World Cup. And what better test of the progress they have made than Brazil, who have lifted the coveted trophy on three occasions.
This is the second time the Samurai Blue have reached the last eight of this competition, but the first since the finals were expanded from 16 to 24 teams in 2005. As host nation they made it to the quarter-finals in 1993, where they went down to Nigeria. Prior to this event, Japan had previously only ever won four games on the FIFA U-17 World Cup stage, though they have since seized victory in three of their four encounters in Mexico, including the 6-0 thrashing of New Zealand in the Round of 16.
Having already beaten Argentina and drawn with France in Group B, taking on a global heavyweight will be nothing new to the Japanese. Yet you can never take anything for granted against Brazil, particularly when they are also unbeaten so far. A Seleção have shown opportunism aplenty on Mexican soil, with barely a goalscoring chance wasted, but will they be as clinical without suspended forwards Lucas Piazon and Nathan? Coach Emerson Avila does have plenty of options, however, with striker Leo and attacking midfielders Bruno Sabia and Guilherme all pushing hard for inclusion.
1 – Brazil and Japan have met just once before at a FIFA U-17 World Cup, with that encounter coming at Nigeria 2009. On that occasion a Neymar-inspired Seleção won 3-2 in a close-fought Group B match, though neither side was able to progress to the knockout phase.
“On the missing players, everyone knows who Piazon is and we’ll miss him, while Nathan’s a good player too. But I’m sure we’ve got lads on the bench who can perform equally well. We’ve got a strong squad and whoever comes into the side has the ability to do a good job,” Ademilson, Brazil striker.
“We all know that they’re a very strong team. But we now want to test our football up against theirs. They beat us at the last edition of this tournament, so we’ve got the chance to get our own back,” Daisuke Takagi, Japan defender.