- Riko Ueki was Japan's top-scorer at Jordan 2016
- Played a key role as Japan won Asian U-19 title
- Ueki has set lofty goals for France 2018
Players from the 16 qualified teams have high expectations heading to the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup France, which kicks off in just four months' time. Japan forward Riko Ueki is no exception, having set the loftiest of goals both for her team and as an individual.
"I think I have all the motivation needed to win the World Cup in France," the 18-year-old told FIFA.com. "And I am excited too, because this is about to be my last youth tournament.
"Individually, I have yet to figure out how many goals I will score," the NTV Beleza forward said. "But I will try to finish the competition as the top-scorer."
Emergence on international scene
Ueki certainly has an impressive track record in front of goal, emerging as one of the tournament's biggest revelations at the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Jordan as Japan stormed to the final.
Out of the five matches she played, Ueki scored four times to finish as her side's top scorer. She also won three Player of the Match awards, a solid testament to her importance to Japan.
Ueki opened the scoring in the opener against Ghana to set Japan on the road to a resounding 5-0 victory, before cancelling out USA's early opener as her side came from behind to pull off a sensational 3-2 win in the group decider.
She continued her prolific form in the knockout stage, netting a brace as Japan swept past England 3-0 in a quarter-final encounter, but it was the comeback triumph against USA that she singled out as the most memorable match.
"Previously, we had never won against the Americans," said Ueki. "We conceded an early goal but managed to equalise and went on to win. It was an unforgettable game for us. We were on the very edge of losing the game but turned the game on its head and won. When we emerged the winners at last, I had a feeling that we had grown up and become stronger."
Despite her fine displays, however, the U-17 World Cup ended in heart-breaking fashion for Ueki, with Japan suffering an unlucky penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of Korea DPR. "Finishing as our team's top scorer may be a sort of achievement. But I was frustrated after failing to win the World Cup.”
All-conquering qualification campaign
To a degree, Ueki and Co. avenged that loss with a final victory against Korea DPR in the 2017 AFC U-19 Women's Asian Cup, which doubled up as qualification for France 2018. Ueki scored the only goal as Japan edged out their old nemesis, who featured a host of star-players from their Jordan 2016 squad.
"I always want to score crucial goals in a key battle and finally I made it in the AFC U-19 final. Scoring the winner in the final and winning the Asian title provided me with a further boost."
The Asian campaign saw Ueki establish her place in her team as more than simply a goal-getter. Aside from scoring three goals, she contributed six assists as Japan conquered all. Already-known for her pacy attack and sharp eyes for goal, Ueki was quick to acknowledge that she is modeling her game on club team-mate and one time U-20 Women’s World Cup starlet Mana Iwabuchi.
"I have my full respect for her," she said of the two-time AFC Young Player of the Year. "She has scored so many goals through her wonderful skills. I want to become a player like her."