Tokyo (AFP) – Two-goal hero Kaoru Mitoma could be Japan’s secret weapon at the World Cup and will also hope to eventually make his mark in the Premier League with a Brighton side crying out for firepower.
The tricky 24-year-old winger sent Japan to the Qatar showpiece with a late brace in a 2-0 win over Australia in Sydney on Thursday just minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Mitoma’s heroics came in only his second appearance for his country and underlined why Brighton manager Graham Potter took a punt on him last summer from J-League champions Kawasaki Frontale, where he scored 30 times in 64 matches.
Brighton, the third-lowest scorers in the Premier League, handed Mitoma a four-year contract and then sent him off to Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise to gain experience.
“He’s one we have tracked for a while so we are looking forward to seeing how he progresses in the next year and we will be watching him closely during his time in Belgium,” said Brighton’s then-technical director Dan Ashworth.
Mitoma has thrived in Belgium’s top flight, bagging five goals in 18 appearances and scoring a hat-trick for the surprise league leaders after coming off the bench with his team 2-0 down against RFC Seraing earlier this season.
Mitoma opted to go to university rather than turning professional straight out of school but he is progressing nicely now that he is playing regularly in Europe, although the Premier League would be a big step up from Belgium’s first division.
“I’ve been playing against lots of different players from around the world and I’ve got used to it,” said Mitoma, who was part of the Japan team that finished fourth at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“It’s widened my range and increased the things that I can do. I’m a lot more confident than I was when I was in Japan.”
– Outshining Minamino –
Mitoma upstaged Takumi Minamino in a wet Sydney.
With the Liverpool forward misfiring in front of goal, Mitoma came off the bench in the 84th minute as Minamino departed and gave Japan the lead with a clinical finish just five minutes later.
Mitoma’s sublime second goal arrived four minutes into injury time, after he ghosted past several Australia defenders before unleashing a shot that goalkeeper Mat Ryan let slip past him.
Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu has largely stuck to a tried-and-trusted group of players in qualifying but Mitoma will be hoping to play a leading role in Qatar after his stunning cameo.
“Whatever the situation, even if you only have one minute, you have to get results in this business,” said Mitoma, who is right-footed and plays on either flank.
“It has nothing to do with how long you get on the pitch, you have to get results.”
Mitoma is one of several players hoping to force their way into Moriyasu’s starting XI before the World Cup kicks off in November.
Real Mallorca starlet Takefusa Kubo, on loan from Real Madrid, and Celtic trio Kyogo Furuhashi, Reo Hatate and Daizen Maeda have all seen limited playing time during the qualifiers.
Moriyasu said after Thursday’s game that he wants Japan to reach the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in their history in Qatar.
“I’ll be taking another look at lots of different players and keeping a close eye on how they develop and perform leading up to the World Cup,” said the manager.
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