- Japan sit second behind Senegal in Group D
- FIFA.com interviews two-goal hero Wakatsuki
- "USA are under more pressure than us"
Japan vs. the Netherlands was one of the most anticipated encounters in the first round of matches at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™. Both teams arrived at the competition as continental champions in Asia and Europe respectively and are among the favourites to lift the trophy in Brasilia.
The game ended in a surprise 3-0 win for the Samurai Blue, who repeatedly overwhelmed the Oranje defence with their quick link-up play and world-class technique. Their standout performer was Japan’s No9 Yamato Wakatsuki who, in addition to scoring a brace, forced Devyne Rensch to handle a dangerous cross in his own penalty area. The result? A penalty to Japan and an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
"We knew that the Netherlands are the toughest opponents in our group, which makes it all the more important that we won the match," the striker told FIFA.com.
Wakatsuki scored both goals with his right foot, each time running onto a through ball that carved the Dutch back four wide open before dribbling briefly and steering a low shot into the far corner. "My right foot is my stronger foot, but I train hard so that I can shoot with my left every now and again too."
He might get a chance to show off these skills against USA on Wednesday. "USA lost their first game, so they’re under more pressure than us," Wakatsuki added.
Despite being quick to reject labels like ‘matchwinner’ and ‘hero of the game’ after his performance against the Netherlands, Japan’s likeable No9 added with a laugh: "Having said that, it could have gone worse."
Things certainly could have gone worse, as there have been some changes in Wakatsuki’s life over the last few months. As recently as June, the 17-year-old joined Japanese top-flight side Shonan Bellmare and has already made two first-team appearances while still belonging to Kiryu Daiichi High School.
While the striker dreams of one day playing in the Premier League and testing himself against the world’s best players, there is no doubt that he still has a long journey ahead of him. "Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe are the players I look up to – Messi because of his incredible technique and dribbling skills, and Mbappe because of his pace."
He has already surpassed his idols in one respect. Neither the reigning The Best FIFA Men’s Player from Argentina nor the French world champion have ever played at a FIFA U-17 World Cup, let alone scored a goal in the competition.
While there is no telling what the future holds, Wakatsuki is off to a great start.