- Mami Ueno won the adidas Golden Boot at the 2016 U-20 Women’s World Cup
- Striker has since earned a call-up to Japan's senior team
- After Japan’s third-place finish in PNG, Ueno is hoping for glory in 2019
Japan striker Mami Ueno does not have happy memories of playing France, the team that stopped her side’s run in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016. The Young Nadeshiko bounced back to beat USA 1-0 in the match for third place thanks to Ueno, a goal that earned her side a bronze medal, took her tournament tally to five goals, and clinched her the adidas Golden Boot for the competition.
“If I could, I would have happily swapped that individual trophy for the world title and shared it with my team-mates,” she told FIFA.com, casting her mind back just over 12 months to the tournament. “We were dreaming of winning it and it was very disappointing for us to only finish third. Obviously, I was pleased with the Golden Boot; it’s given me confidence as a striker. It wasn’t just down to my hard work though; I owe it first and foremost to my team-mates.”
Ueno’s top three moments at Papua New Guinea 2016
. The lob against Nigeria, a candidate for Goal of the Tournament
. The goal that secured third place for Japan
. Winning the Golden Boot
Ueno is a team player, though that is only to be expected of Japan’s youth sides, which religiously embrace the passing game. “I want my team to play a brand of football suited to Japanese players,” said coach Asako Takakura at Papua New Guinea 2016. “That means solid technique, team spirit and perfect link-up play. These three factors are our most important strengths.”
A five-time winner of the Asian Coach of the Year award, Takakura is not the type to single out individual players for praise. She was moved to make an exception for the free-scoring Ueno, however: “With her class, I’m sure that she’s going to take the full national team to the next level.”
Yet there is no question of Ueno try to claim the spotlight for herself: “I don’t want to be a star,” she said when asked if the Golden Boot had raised her profile. “I just want to win titles.”
And there is no better place to start in that respect than the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, a tournament in which Ueno has every chance of appearing. Now a regular presence in the senior squad, the Ehime FC striker has already made three international appearances.
“It’s very rewarding to play at that level,” she explained. “I’m picking up experience and the game’s a lot faster.” First of all, however, Japan need to negotiate their way out of a tough group at the 2018 AFC Asian Women’s Cup, which will take place between 6-20 April next year.
“I’m confident,” said Ueno. “We’re going to be world champions again.” That prediction could come to fruition a year earlier, at the U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018.
“I don’t have any advice for my compatriots, aside from the fact they need to do everything they can to avoid the disappointment I felt in missing out on a place in the final,” she added. “I want them to win, to be on top of the podium. And I very much hope that’s going to happen.”
If it does, Ueno might just start managing a smile whenever France pops up in conversation.