Ueki and Japan keen to make history in France

  • Japan looking forward to first U-20 Women’s World Cup final

  • Riko Ueki scored the match winner against England on Monday

  • With five goals, forward is in the running for the adidas Golden Boot

It had the makings of an exciting match. Heading into Monday’s semi-final between England and Japan, both sides had shown an intent to attack and score goals in large numbers. At the final whistle, it was the Young Nadeshiko that reached their first-ever FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup final with a commanding performance that seemed reminiscent of a team that has improved with each match at France 2018.

Two goals in five first-half minutes was all that was needed for Japan to get past the Young Lionesses, though their victory can also be attributed to the manner in which they nullified England’s potent attack at the Stade de la Rabine. Showing a high level of organisation and work rate, Futoshi Ikeda’s side looked more assured in their performance, especially during the opening 45 minutes.

The match winner came around the midway point of the first half and from a player that has found the scoresheet at a valuable time for the East Asians. Riko Ueki’s excellent turn and finish set the Japanese on course for another successful day in Vannes.

“I came here to try and win this World Cup and to try and make history in Japanese women’s football,” she told FIFA.com after their 2-0 win over England. “The key was to get a goal early in the match. That was very important for us and also important for me. I feel my goal made a difference in the match and it makes me feel very proud and positive for what I have achieved.”

Riko Ueki - player profile

  • Born 30 July 1999

  • Plays her club football for Tokyo Verdy’s women’s football side NTV Beleza

  • Started playing football in school when she was ten years old

  • Has always played as a forward

  • Her idol is Japan forward and 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup winner Mana Iwabuchi

Golden Boot candidate

In helping her country to the final, the 19-year-old is also in the running for the adidas Golden Boot award as the tournament’s top scorer, with the striker having scored five goals in Japan’s last three matches at this competition, starting with a hat-trick in their final group stage encounter against Paraguay. “If I was to become top scorer, I would be very proud, but the priority is to win the championship for this team,” Ueki said.

As Japan turn their focus to Friday evening’s big match, Ueki believes Spain will provide a very stiff test of Japan’s credentials, as they go in search of a maiden U-20 Women’s World Cup title. The forward is keen to have the game erase the disappointment of two years ago in Jordan when Ueki and Japan lost to Korea DPR on penalties in the final of the last U-17 Women’s World Cup.

“Jordan was a real tough memory for us, as we weren’t able to win the championship. We don’t want to repeat that same experience this time,” Ueki said. “I love this team. That is why I want to finish my time with this team by winning this championship.”