With all the pomp and circumstance that comes with an official Fifa tournament, it is easy to forget just how young the players playing their trade here this month actually are.
Decked in their branded bunting, the stadia at the Fifa Under 17 World Cup look the real deal. In their posh sponsored boots, so do the players.
Most of them probably have their paths to fame and prosperity planned out already. The lion’s share are already invested in academies at professional clubs. And you are nobody in this tournament without an agent, either.
Yet most of them are still not too big to be put over their mother’s knee if they have not done their homework.
Least of all Kosei Uryu, the 17-year-old Japan midfield dynamo who was the difference between the Asian side and Russia in Sharjah last night.
The elfin midfielder from Japan is still only knee high to a Russian defender at 5ft 4ins. He will be some player when he is all grown up.
Vertically challenged midfielders such as Xavi and Andres Iniesta would have been proud of his commanding performance.
He added his negligible weight to the argument that says a little stealth and guile will always be a match for power and strength in football.
Stealth, guile, and a cannon of a shot, that is.
Uryu settled the debate against the Russians with a crisp drive in the 15th minute, which went into the net via the underside of the crossbar. If his effort is bettered throughout the course of this tournament, then YouTube is sure to be in for a hammering.
To extend the analogy, the midfielder probably does have his homework books with him for the tour of the UAE, too.
Uryu is one of a clutch of players in Japan’s 21-player squad for this competition who does not have an official affiliation to a J-League club, or even a professional outfit of any sort.
Instead of being on the books of the likes of Tokyo Verdy, or Urawa Reds, or Shimizu S Pulse, the Japan media guide has him listed as a member of the Chikuyo Gakuen High School side in the Kyushu province.
He was little-known, even to the majority of the sizeable travelling Japanese press corps, before this game. His status will likely have improved significantly after this.
“He is a high-school player with a professional player’s attitude,” Hirofumi Yoshitake, the Japan coach, said of the game’s standout performer.
“Before the match, he said to us that he was ready and that he wanted to show what he could do. He really wanted to get a goal and that mentality drove him to do it.”
Uryu’s individual excellence underpinned a highly impressive display by the side from the Far East. Their opponents arrived here as European champions, yet they barely had a kick of the ball. Taro Sugimoto, the player in the Japan squad who is most readily expected to reach the top, was not even playing in their tournament opener.
And the coach expects to tweak his side next time out, too. The rest of the world should beware: Japan mean business at this competition.
“This Japan team has a rotation policy,” said Yoshitake, the 53-year-old coach.
“There is no fixed player in any position. The anchor in the team for this game against Russia may not be the same in the next game [when Japan face Venezuela at Sharjah Stadium on Monday].
“Our favourite way of playing with this team is a 4-2-3-1 formation, but we altered that in the second half as we wanted to make more space against Russia. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as they defended very well.”
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