Mon, Jun 17, 2019 - Page 10 News List

‘Japanese Messi’ prepares for Copa America debut

AFP, SALVADOR, Brazil, and TOKYO

Japan’s Takefusa Kubo takes part in a training session at the Estadio do Pacaembu in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

On a continent where “imitation” Galacticos are a dime a dozen, Japan’s Takefusa Kubo could just be the real deal.

Snapped up by Real Madrid on Friday from under the noses of some of the world’s other top clubs, the teenage sensation is about to demonstrate why he is known as the “Japanese Messi” at the tender age of 18.

The youngster, described by Real as one of the most promising players in world soccer, is set to create a buzz at this month’s Copa America in Brazil after earning his first senior call-up for the Blue Samurai.

Japan were to play their first match yesterday against Chile.

Rarely an Asian soccer tournament goes by without a “Thai Zico,” an “Iraqi Cristiano Ronaldo” or even a “North Korean Wayne Rooney” among the team rosters.

However, it was Kubo who was invited to Barcelona’s youth academy as a scrawny nine-year-old where he earned his nickname for his mazy dribbling skills.

Although the Catalan giants were keen to retain him, Real Madrid took the plunge, heading off interest from Manchester City, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain.

The midfielder signed from Tokyo in the J1 League could come face-to-face with Argentina wizard Messi at the Copa America depending on results in the group stage.

However, Messi and his team were left “feeling bitter” after Argentina on Saturday lost their opening Copa America match 2-0 to Colombia, despite dominating the second half.

Goals from Roger Martinez and Duvan Zapata in the final 20 minutes gave Colombia their first tournament victory over Argentina in 20 years as Messi’s hopes of finally landing a major international tournament after losing in four finals suffered a serious blow.

“We leave here feeling bitter,” Messi said following the Group B clash in Salvador. “In the second half we had our chances.”

One of the best of those fell to the 31-year-old Barcelona icon, but he headed wide after Colombia’s goalkeeper David Ospina got down quickly to push out a header from center-back Nicolas Otamendi.

Although Argentina dominated possession and created more chances in the second period, they rarely caused Ospina any serious concerns.

“We didn’t want to start this way, obviously, but now we have to lift our heads and keep going,” Messi said.

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