Ueki aims to replace World Cup heartbreak with Asian glory
Yongin: Nippon TV Beleza wonderkid Riko Ueki has revealed her determination to capture the inaugural Asian title in Saturday’s potentially decisive AFC Women’s Club Championship clash against Australia’s Melbourne Victory.
The 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup-winning forward says it’s up to Beleza to bring the title back to Japan and reinforce the country’s reputation as Asian’s women’s football powerhouse.
Claiming the title would provide Ueki with a positive end to a rollercoaster year, which has included the highs of a trophy-laden campaign for Beleza and a senior international debut for Japan, as well the heartbreak of missing the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup due to a last-minute injury.
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“I was depressed for a month after I found out I wasn’t going to be a member of the squad at the Women’s World Cup,” revealed Ueki.
“But in the future, there will be many opportunities for me. Because of that, I was able to switch my mind to the future to work hard for the next chance.”
Ueki’s form in Yongin suggests she will be well equipped to take those chances
The 20-year-old made an eye-catching cameo as a substitute in Beleza’s first outing against Jiangsu Suning, before scoring the crucial first goal in a match-winning performance against Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels on Thursday.
These are merely the latest indicators of Ueki’s potential to be one of Asian football’s stars of the 2020s, and Nippon TV Beleza head coach Masato Nagata is far from the only one who thinks Ueki will be become one of Japan’s key players.
With Asian and World titles already under her belt at youth level, the versatile Ueki is eager to add to her trophy haul by capturing the Asian club title on behalf of Japan with a win against Victory.
“There are many Nadeshiko Japan players in the team, so there are many things that can be absorbed from daily practice,” she said of her experience at Beleza, where she came through the club’s exceptionally successful academy.
“Only Nippon TV Beleza can prove that Japanese football is the best in Asia, so I want to win and hold the title of Asian Champions in Japan.”
While the Tokyo-based club have long been considered the leaders of the Japanese domestic scene, they are now going about proving their status as a continental leader at the inaugural AFC Women’s Club Championship.
Earlier in the tournament Beleza and Japan star Yui Hasegawa expressed her desire to challenge clubs like European champions Olympique Lyonnais, and Ueki believes the current FIFA-AFC Pilot Tournament is the first step towards proving that Asian clubs can compete with the world’s best.
“At the moment, Europe and the United States are said to be strong in women's football,” said Ueki.
“I hope that this tournament will show that Asia can do this too.”
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