Japan’s Minamino keeps focus on winning rather than revenge

Kyodo

Japan striker Takumi Minamino said Tuesday his only goal in Wednesday’s U-23 Asian Championship game against North Korea is a win.

Looking to qualify for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics by finishing third or better in the tournament in Doha, Japan will open its Group B games against North Korea followed by matches against Thailand on Saturday and Saudi Arabia the following Tuesday.

Yet being cool on the pitch against North Korea may be difficult, considering the teams’ history.

On Oct. 17, 2014, Minamino and Japan tasted humiliation when they were eliminated from the U-19 Asian Cup on penalties by North Korea. Minamino, who now plies his trade for Austrian club Salzburg, equalized from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute, but his blocked shot in the shootout sent North Korea into the semifinals.

Minamino, whose nose was puffy from having been kicked in the face during the game, went last for Japan and his failure cost his team a trip to the U-20 World Cup. Since finding out North Korea would be in the same group, Minamino has repeatedly said, “I want to get revenge on North Korea.”

Yet on the eve of the game, that emotion has been toned down and replaced by more practical thoughts.

“There is a desire to erase frustration,” said Minamino. “But the priority is winning. I want to give the team some impetus.”

Minamino, whose strength while in possession of the ball has increased notably while playing abroad, has stood out against his teammates in practice by being able to take them head on.

“From the get-go, I want to be a player who pushes forward, staving off strong challenges of my opponents,” he said.