Miyayoshi, Japan's quiet assassin
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At barely 16, Japan's Takumi displays all the hallmarks of Japanese culture: shyness, respect and efficiency. When he steps onto the football field, however, all that remains is the latter, as was obvious in his first 90 minutes at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 against Switzerland.  

"I’d have much preferred to win the game than to score two goals," he told FIFA.com after that 4-3 defeat in Lagos last Tuesday. "I want the team to win, regardless of who gets the goals. I know it’s a trite thing to say, but I really mean it," says Miyayoshi, who had to wait until the second match to get the nod from coach Yutaka Ikeuchi.

These people are football fanatics. They dance, sing and cheer throughout the games. I really hope they’ll be on our side against Mexico.
Japan's Takumi on the fans in Nigeria

"I arrived here with high hopes of playing, but the coach decided that I wouldn't be selected against Brazil. Of course I was disappointed, but it pushed me to train even harder. Before I faced Switzerland, I thought a lot about how I would play, what impact I could make on the pitch, and how I would put away any chances I got. I think that all that helped me to score my two goals," he said.

That second loss, which was surprising given Japan's fine first-half performance, has left the team in a precarious position as regards qualifying from Group B. The young Samurai Blue as yet have no points, and must beat Mexico in order to overtake them on goal difference.

For Miyayoshi, a keen admirer of Frenchman Thierry Henry, the team still have a lot to offer: "As long as we can mathematically qualify, I'll do everything in my power to help the team progress. Our aim when we came here was to reach the semi-finals, and we're sticking to it, despite the two defeats."

Lost in translation
Just as any westerner travelling to the Land of the Rising Sun would experience some culture shock, Miyayoshi has been surprised by the differences between Asia and Africa. "Not so much in the food, which is delicious, nor the people, who are very friendly," he stresses. What surprised him was the passion of the Nigerian fans: "These people are football fanatics. They dance, sing and cheer throughout the games. I really hope they’ll be on our side against Mexico."

To overcome Mexico, the Kyoto Sanga player and his team-mates will have to fight hard and try to take the 2005 champions by surprise. And above all, they will have to put away the type of chances that they missed in their previous games. "This indecisiveness in front of goal afflicts Japanese football as a whole, not just this team," admitted the coach after the Brazil game. Miyayoshi, who remains in contact with his family back home via text messages, seems to be the ideal player to remedy this problem.

"Whenever I can score goals that help the team, I’m delighted for all of us. But I don't dream of being transferred to any particular foreign league or club. As we progress in tournaments as important as this one, maybe I’ll get the urge to move abroad. We’ll see what happens," he said, shy and respectful as always. This time, he's saving his efficiency for the match against Mexico.