HWASEONG, SOUTH KOREA – New Japan forward Yohei Toyoda will welcome the physicality of Australia when Alberto Zaccheroni’s side take on the Socceroos in the East Asian Cup on Thursday.
“Physical contact doesn’t faze me one bit,” Toyoda said on the eve of Japan’s second match in the regional championship. The Asian champions drew 3-3 with China in their opener Sunday. “I’m actually looking forward to it.”
The 28-year-old late bloomer has earned his first call-up with another solid individual campaign for Sagan Tosu, as the club flirt with relegation by sitting in 15th at the halfway point of the season.
Toyoda scored 19 goals in 33 league games last season, trailing only J1’s top scorer and MVP Hisato Sato of Sanfrecce Hiroshima. He has picked up right where he left off with 12 goals in 17 appearances this season, behind only, you guessed it, Sato.
While Toyoda may be lacking in international experience, he brings a nose for goal as well as size and strength at 185 centimeters — a combination that none of Zaccheroni’s current strikers possess.
Zaccheroni on Wednesday suggested a change in the starting lineup from the China game, with either Toyoda or Kashima Antlers’ Yuya Osako expected to replace Yoichiro Kakitani up front on his own.
Japan and Australia drew 1-1 at Saitama last month, when the Asian champions became the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Toyoda represented Japan at the 2008 Beijing Olympics alongside the likes of Keisuke Honda, Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida, who are now staples in Zaccheroni’s first team.
With an impressive showing in the East Asian Cup, Toyoda is eyeing a reunion with his Beijing teammates as a Blue Samurai — and in Brazil next summer.
“I’ve been ready. If I get my chance, I can bring out my best game,” he said. “We have various types of players in the squad. I hope to play to the best of my abilities and help us win.”
“My goal wasn’t just to be picked for this tournament. I want to fry bigger fish in the future.”