TOYOTA, AICHI PREF. – Shinji Okazaki made his 100th appearance for Japan in March, and now he’s chasing his 50th international goal, which the Leicester City forward is two shy of.
And Okazaki has learned about the art of goalscoring from none other than his Leicester teammate and strike partner, Jamie Vardy, who was one short of capturing the golden boot in the Premier League for Claudio Ranieri’s champions.
Okazaki said what separates Vardy from the rest is his ability to get locked in, harnessing all his efforts into performing one task — putting the ball into the net.
While Okazaki’s role at Leicester demands he carry out a number of responsibilities, his primary job with Japan is to finish for a team that has traditionally struggled in front of goal.
“One of his strengths is that he’s always in a zone, for better or worse,” Okazaki said of the European-bound England international on the eve of Friday’s Kirin Cup match against Bulgaria. “And because he’s in his own world, I don’t think the thought of missing a shot ever crosses his mind.
“He’s a good shooter of the ball to begin with. He’s a quality striker because he can reproduce in games what he does in training — and that’s because he’s in a zone. I can be like that when I’m on a roll, but you need to be that focused in order to be a good striker.”
“When I’m with Japan, I’m fed the ball a lot and being in that kind of position comes with responsibility. There were days when I couldn’t take my chances and struggled to score, but you always have to be ready and willing to take a shot — and that’s what I’ll do in my next game.”
He added: “As a striker, you need to be egotistical because that’s what the job demands.”
Okazaki, only the fifth Japanese to win 100 caps, is seven goals from tying his idol Kazuyoshi Miura on the all-time list. Kunishige Kamamoto is No. 1 with 75 goals.
Not long ago, Okazaki was not the type to speak about achieving individual records, but having taken lessons from Vardy about the need to be selfish at times, he’s no longer afraid to say what he wants.
“I’m 30, but I’m much, much younger compared to Kazu-san,” Okazaki said of the 49-year-old Miura. “I appreciate what veterans do more and more with each passing year.”
“If you’re not constantly trying to be a better footballer, you won’t last long — especially not to his age. Living overseas, I’ve come to really appreciate that kind of attitude. I really look up to him.
“I want to score more goals against European teams, not Asian teams. I think a year or two ago, I probably wouldn’t have been bothered by records but now, I want to score as many as I can and leave my mark on the national team.
“That way, I think it will also give the younger players something to shoot for.”