Tuesday 23 May 2017, 02:00

Ogawa, Japan's optimistic team player

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  • Koki Ogawa scored Japan's first goal at Korea Republic 2017

  • Calls for his team to play proactively vs Uruguay

  • Counts Luis Suarez and Yuya Osako as his role models

It is often said that the first step is always the hardest, and this certainly seemed to ring true for Japan in their first match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017.

After falling behind to South Africa just a few minutes into their Group D opener, the Samurai Blue pushed urgently for an equaliser yet squandered a series of excellent scoring opportunities. Striker Koki Ogawa missed several attempts from promising positions and was particularly unlucky when his spectacular volley hit the post.

"I stayed relaxed, even though the ball didn’t want to go into the back of the net at first," Japan’s No9 told FIFA.com. "We were creating plenty of chances for ourselves at that stage, so I was confident I’d be able to get a goal sooner or later."

His prediction turned out to be correct. Ogawa drew the Asian side level immediately after the restart and was rewarded for his strong performance when Ritsu Doan found the target to secure all three points for the Japanese. "It was such a relief to win the first game and start the tournament with a victory," said Ogawa.

Japan face an even more formidable challenge against Uruguay in their next match, and the 19-year-old is well aware of the difficult task awaiting them.

"Uruguay are a strong team with a very intense style of play," he said. "We cannot afford to play too defensively; instead we need to take the ball forward ourselves and play with confidence."

The striker and his team-mates will be able to build on the same raucous support from the stands that they enjoyed in their first match. "It’s great that so many Japanese fans have come to Korea and that so many people are following us," said Ogawa, whose family have also travelled to watch him play. "It’s also a great responsibility for us, as we obviously don’t want to disappoint our fans."

The youngster’s career as a striker has been anything but disappointing so far – especially as he started out as a defender. "It helps that I previously played in various positions across the back line, as it really helped me with my development," explained Ogawa, who is strong in the air and has already gathered valuable experience in the J1 League with his club Jubilo Iwata. "It’s great to have made my first few appearances with the first team and now to be playing at the U-20 World Cup."

Ogawa counts Barcelona star striker Luis Suarez among his role models together with compatriot Yuya Osako, who has just enjoyed a remarkable season with Koln in the Bundesliga. "I admire both of these players not only because they’re good finishers but because they create so many chances for their team-mates," he explained.

The same is true for Ogawa, who knows exactly how to use his 1.83m frame effectively. "It’s important for the team and our attacking players that I can win aerial duels and keep the ball, and that will be essential against Uruguay and Italy," said the young Japanese player, who still has big plans for this tournament.

"Of course we dream of becoming world champions, even though that’s going to be an incredibly tall order – but anything is possible in football," he concluded with a smile.