Two years after her dazzling displays at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago, Japan’s No10, Kumi Yokoyama, is back on the world stage, this time on home turf at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.
Winner of the adidas Silver Ball and the adidas Bronze Shoe two years ago on Caribbean soil, Yokoyama is now aiming to have just as big an impact at Japan 2012. In the lead up to Japan’s third and final group game against Switzerland, she gave FIFA.com this exclusive interview.
“I was still at school in 2010, and now I represent a team in the Japanese women’s soccer league. I play alongside Aya Miyama, the captain of the senior side, which has been a great experience. I want to keep on improving and become a world-class player like her.”
Yokoyama’s most important goal to date came in her country’s semi-final against Korea DPR at Trinidad & Tobago 2010, when she dribbled past five players to score the winning goal. The forward has already shown her skills at Japan 2012, netting Japan’s third goal in their opening game against Mexico with a long-range effort rifled into the top corner.
Reflecting on the strike, Yokoyama told us, “It was one of my ‘specials’. At my club side, Okayama Yunogo Belle, I get to practice against Miho Fukumoto (goalkeeper for Japan’s full international side) and it’s really improved my shooting.”
Indeed, having to beat the goalkeeper of the current FIFA Women’s World Cup champions may be the secret to Yokoyama’s pinpoint accuracy. Partly thanks to her goal, Japan ran out 4-1 winners.
Asked about Japan’s second group game, a 2-2 draw against New Zealand, Yokoyama said, “It was only a draw, but I think there’s a lot we can take from the game. We didn’t react well to conceding the goals and our overall play also needs work. I’d really like us score first so we can take control of the game.”
“We got together after the New Zealand match and I feel we’re stronger now as a unit. In our coming matches, we’re going to have to work out how to set up against other physical teams. We’ll come up against players who are taller than us, and we’re just going to have to put our bodies on the line and keep them out,” the 19-year-old added.
“On the attacking side, I felt our individual skills gave us an advantage over other teams at the U-17 World Cup, and that was enough to create chances. At this U-20 tournament, though, some teams have players who are full internationals. At this level, you can’t get away with playing as a group of individuals.”
Inspiration from Italy
In the Mexico and New Zealand games, the Young Nadeshiko have demonstrated great technique and passing. However, they still need a result on 26 August against Switzerland to be certain of progressing from their group. “We want to get through and go on to win the tournament. To do so, I think we have to win this game,” she said.
Yokoyama admitted her favourite player is former Italy striker Roberto Baggio. Though too young to have seen him in the flesh, his play impressed her on DVDs she watched with her family, and he has been an inspiration ever since. “He had such a desire to score and has put away some great goals. I had the DVDs on again before this tournament.”
“I think the best thing about our team is that we all love playing so much,” she said as our interview came to a close. “Everyone’s happy and smiles during practice, which really unites the team. I hope I can play a part in us getting a win against Switzerland. My role in the team is as an attacker. On the wing, it’s all about dribbling and trying to win the one-on-ones."