Okada backs Okazaki to reach highest level


RIFU, Miyagi Pref. — National team manager Takeshi Okada believes Shinji Okazaki has all the tools to become a world-class striker after the Shimizu S-Pulse forward took his international tally to 14 goals in 18 games on Wednesday night.

Okazaki hit his second hat trick in the space of a week in Japan’s 5-0 friendly win over Togo at Miyagi Stadium, to add to his treble against Hong Kong in an Asian Cup qualifier last Thursday.

Okazaki made his international debut only a year ago, but his progress since then has led Okada to suggest the 23-year-old can go even further.

“I’m really surprised at just how much he has improved in one year with the national team,” he said. “He keeps his balance when he’s shooting, and he only needs one touch of the ball to score. He has really come to know his own strengths and he is showing what he is made of.

“Fourteen goals in 18 games is a surprising rate, and if he can raise his game up a notch or two further he has the potential to become a really top striker.”

Okazaki’s goals largely drew the attention away from strike partner Takayuki Morimoto, but the 21-year-old also hit the target in his first international start.

Morimoto used his upper-body strength to hold hulking defender Boussari Akinsola at bay before turning and firing past goalkeeper Dodji Obilale for Japan’s third of the evening.

“If you make the runs you will be rewarded for it,” the Catania striker said. “The opposition wasn’t strong at all, but it was good to play and to get a goal.

“I spoke to our midfielders, and they told me how important it is to think about defense as well as attack. That’s the way the team plays, and I want to be a part of it.”

Okada was rubbing his hands at Morimoto’s first two international appearances over the past week, and challenged the striker to make himself undroppable.

“I have been wanting to see Morimoto score, and that is all I really ask of him,” Okada said. “There are still things he needs to work on to become a starting player, but considering how short a time he has been with us, he has done very well.

“At the moment he is a proving to be a very useful joker in the pack.”