Yuya Kubo learns from Kagawa, Okazaki ahead of qualifier vs. Australia
Striker Yuya Kubo hopes that he can emulate the achievements of his Japan teammates Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki as Vahid Halilhodzic's side prepare for their crucial 2018 AFC World Cup qualifying clash with Australia later this month.
Japan top Group B of Asia's final qualifying phase for Russia 2018 by a single point from both Saudi Arabia and the Australians, with the Japanese due to meet their two rivals in their final two qualifiers.
Victory in either game would be enough to ensure Japan qualify for a sixth straight World Cup appearance. The Gent striker says he is focusing on the meeting with the Socceroos at Saitama Stadium on Aug. 31.
"The next game will be a crucial for us," the 23-year-old told FIFA.com. "We are all too aware that we have to get ourselves well-prepared for this match.
"Personally speaking, this importance of this meeting needs no introduction. So I will get myself more than ready for the test against Australia."
Kubo made his debut for Japan's senior side last year against Oman in a friendly, having represented his country at all levels in the past.
He has scored twice during the current World Cup campaign, against the United Arab Emirates and Thailand. He is eager to pick up as much as possible from the more experienced senior players around him, like Okazaki and Kagawa.
"They are very successful players for both club and country," Kubo said. "I am doing my best to follow in their big footprints.
"There is much to learn from them, although our respective playing styles are dissimilar. I want to be a striker who can not only score but also create chances."
Despite an impressive return of 11 goals in 17 games since joining Gent in January from Switzerland's Young Boys, Kubo has managed to keep his feet on the ground.
"I've been trying hard not to miss an opportunity to score when it comes," he said. "I guess that I am not doing my job badly. But I don't think I am already a star. There are many things I need to improve on, so I still need to work harder."
After the game in Saitama, Japan will travel to Jeddah to face Saudi Arabia as Australia host Thailand in Melbourne. If the Japanese fail to beat the Socceroos, they will need to secure victory against the Saudis to be sure of automatic qualification.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch