Soccer

15-year-old Kubo receives spot on Japan’s Under-20 World Cup squad

Kyodo

Fifteen-year-old former Barcelona prodigy Takefusa Kubo was among 21 named to the Japan squad Tuesday for the upcoming Under-20 World Cup in South Korea.

Kubo, dubbed the “Japanese Messi,” signed with FC Tokyo’s youth team in May 2015 after four years with Barcelona, returning to Japan when the Catalan club was penalized by soccer’s world governing body FIFA for violating international transfer regulations.

He became the youngest player to score in a J3 match against Cerezo Osaka’s U-23s on April 15.

“I never dreamed of getting in here (U-20) when I was playing qualifiers for the U-17 World Cup last year,” said Kubo, who has been training with Tokyo’s senior side. “I’m smaller in size but I think that in return gives me the edge on agility. I want to come up with plays that will amaze anyone watching.

“Everyone was picking up their form and I was worried I didn’t show enough (to be picked), so I’m relieved. Now I’m in and can’t be making mistakes because my age is younger.”

Japan has played in the tournament eight times but has yet to use a player so young. Current Nagoya Grampus manager Yahiro Kazama, FC Yokohama ‘keeper Yuta Minami and former Catania striker Takayuki Morimoto were on the squad at 17, while Hidetoshi Nakata, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa and Vegalta Sendai striker Sota Hirayama played at 18.

“Kubo’s quick and flexible in adapting and makes a difference to our attack,” coach Atushi Uchiyama said of the left-footed gem.

Along with Kubo, Jubilo Iwata striker Koki Ogawa and Gamba Osaka midfielder Ritsu Doan were picked for the May 20-June 11 tournament featuring 24 nations divided into six groups of four.

The top two from each group and the four best third-place teams will advance to the round of 16.

Japan, which is making its first appearance at the competition in five years, is in Group D and will face South Africa in their opener on May 21. Japan faces Uruguay on May 24 followed by Italy three days later.