Japan are heading to the round of 16 of the 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup after picking up wins over Poland and Senegal to advance out of the group stage.
Japan opened the tournament against Poland. They conceded the majority of possession, but were a constant threat on the counter, and their forays forward routinely took them into the box and produced chances. Finally, Rento Takaoka broke through in the 76th minute and the Samurai Blue defense made it stand up to win, 1-0.
A 3-1 loss to Argentina in the second group stage match, with another goal by Takaoka, put the pressure on Japan to win their finale.
They delivered, once again leaving it late. And, as had been the case all tournament, it was Takaoka who came through. First, he skied to head home a cross from 12 yards, then he was rewarded for his defensive work as he pressed the goalkeeper, took it off his foot and tapped it in. With F.C.Tokyo’s Wataru Goto playing phenomenally in goal, that’s all Japan needed to beat Senegal, 2-0, and book their spot in the knockout stages.
Now, Japan are on to the round of 16, where a match up with Spain awaits them.
The U-17 team is led by manager Yoshiro Moriyama, who played for four J.League clubs before becoming the coach of the Sanfrecce Hiroshima U-18 team and, since 2012, the Japan U-17s.
Moriyama has taken a team to the World Cup made up exclusively of domestic-based talents, with 17 of the 21 players in the squad currently in J.League academies.