- Kubo set to feature at second FIFA competition at India 2017
- He played as Japan progressed to Korea Republic 2017 knockout stages
- Japanese youngster targets FIFA U-17 World Cup title
While the majority of the FIFA U-17 World Cup participants head to India for their global debut, Japan's Takefusa Kubo will travel to the country relishing the chance of excelling in his second FIFA tournament. The FC Tokyo attacker was, indeed, a surprise inclusion in Japan's FIFA U-20 World Cup squad earlier this year considering his tender age. Kubo was just 15 years and 351 days on the day the tournament began, making him one of the youngest at Korea Republic 2017.
Despite this, Kubo proved that he was not there to make up the numbers. The dynamic teenager featured in three games, notably providing the assist for Japan's match-winning goal in the 2-1 opening victory against South Africa. Such performances are the envy of most peers, but Kubo, who played as a second-half substitute in their solitary-goal defeat to Venezuela in the second round, was still left ruing the knockout stage loss.
"The teams we played against in the tournament: Italy, Venezuela, Uruguay, all advanced to the semi-finals," Kubo, who turned sixteen this June, said to FIFA.com. "Especially Venezuela, they reached the final. Had we won against them, it would have been a different match and campaign for us."
Having said that, it is the international exposure he gained at the global showpiece that will surely stand him in good stead in the future, a fact which the player was quick to acknowledge.
"Playing against the world's top young players was a great experience for me," he explained. "Of course, I could see the difference in levels between us. Now the important task for me is how I can close this gap. "
From Barcelona to FC Tokyo
Those following Kubo's game closely are aware just what a great player he could be. In fact, Kubo made headlines in Japan in his even younger days, due to his link with Barcelona. After showing his talents with local side FC Persimmon, he joined FC Barcelona’s youth Academy, La Masia, in 2011. He would go on to compete in youth competitions of varying age levels for his team, including finishing his first season in the U-11 league as top goal-scorer with a remarkable 74 goals in 30 games, before winning the MVP award in the U-12 Mediterranean Cup tournament the following year.
Kubo would continue his progress after returning to Japan in 2015. He wrote his name into Japan's footballing history-book when he became the youngest player to play in the professional league, debuting in a J3 League match against AC Nagano Parceiro, representing FC Tokyo's U-23 team on 5 November 2016. At international level, Kubo impressed in last year's AFC U-16 Championship, during which he scored four times as Japan sealed qualification to India 2017. His predatory talents were perfectly showcased when he set up Ritsu Doan for the match-winner against South Africa at Korea Republic 2017, a fond memory which remains vivid for him.
"When I first received the pass from Ritsu, I knew Koki (Ogawa) was calling from the far side," he recalled. “But I thought it was a bit difficult to deliver the ball there. Then, I heard Ritsu calling me from the back, so I made the pass to Ritsu, pretending I would do it to Koki. It became a difficult ball for Ritsu, but he made it. I was very happy that this proved a strike which sealed our progression."
Lofty goals for India
Japan will learn the hurdles they must overcome when the U-17 FIFA World Cup draw takes place this Friday. But whoever they are pitted against, Kubo voiced his confidence that Japan can go all the way and win a maiden U-17 World Cup title.
"I played in the U-20 World Cup, so I know what a World Cup looks like," Kubo concluded. "I will definitely share the experiences with my team mates if I am selected for our U-17 World Cup squad. [After failing to go further at Korea Republic 2017], we want to become champions in India this time around and there are no excuses for us not to make it."