- Shoji Toyama is Japan U-17’s current leading goal-scorer
- He scored five times during Asian qualifiers for the FIFA U-17 World Cup
- The Gamba Osaka forward aims to help Japan to a better finish
Japan and Werder Bremen forward Yuya Osako has no shortage of adoring fans considering his brilliant form for club and country. He is well-known for striking the Samurai Blue's match-winner against Colombia during last year's 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, a memorable goal which saw Japan become the first Asian side to beat a South American team at the global extravaganza.
Notable among his fervent admirers is Japan U-17 striker Shoji Toyama, who is keen on following in Osako's big footprints and achieving similar success. "I want to become a player who can make a name in the world," the 16-year-old told FIFA.com. "Osako has been doing great overseas. I want to contribute so that people from across the world will think that Japanese players are active worldwide."
By any standards, this is indeed high ambitions for a teenager. But Toyama showed what potential he has during the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship. The Gamba Osaka youth team forward finished as the tournament joint top-scorer with five goals as Japan won their third continental title and sealed qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019 beginning in October.
Aside from his goal-scoring rate, it was the confidence and aplomb Toyama showed in front of the goal that made him stand out as one of the tournament's biggest revelations.
With his first World Cup just around the corner, Toyama now has the opportunity to showcase what he is capable of in front of a global audience, just as Osako did at Russia 2018. Japan's best finishes at this level are a pair of quarter-final appearances in 1993 and 2011. Boosted by their title-winning performances during the Asian qualifier, however, Toyama thinks that they can fare better this time around.
"My role is a striker and I want to be a player who can not only score but help win the game," he said. "We are Asian champions and I believe that we have the strength to reach a higher level [than before] in this tournament. We will do our utmost to achieve our goal.
"To do that, we should remain aware that we need to improve our play. We need to combine our pressing and movement to create chances. We should make the best of the next two months to prepare ourselves. We're really looking to put in some good performances in Brazil."
A clash of continental holders
Even the tough group opponents seemingly do little to dent Toyama's World Cup hopes. Japan will open their campaign against European champions the Netherlands before taking on CONCACAF runners-up USA. Awaiting them in the closing match of group play are debutants Senegal.
"I personally think that it is good for us to play against the strongest team in the opening match," he said, citing the Netherlands encounter. "It is a clash of continental champions. I've watched some footage of the team and I feel they are at a higher level that the rest of the group opponents. They are better in nearly every aspect, physically and technically.
"USA are also a strong team, and we played against Senegal last year in a friendly in Japan. They showed superior physical strengths and we lost the match by 2-0. But that provides us with necessary experiences when we face them again in Brazil."