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Striker Sato Stakes a Claim for a World Cup Place (May 12, 2006)

Sato Hisato in action against Bulgaria (Jiji)
The 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany begins on June 9, and Japan's 23-man squad for the event will be announced on May 15. Selecting the players is the job of Japan's Brazilian manager, Zico, and the competition for places is particularly intense among the forwards. In addition to established names like Kubo Tatsuhiko (Yokohama F. Marinos) and Takahara Naohiro (Hamburger SV), a rising star by the same of Sato Hisato (Sanfrecce Hiroshima) has shot into contention with a prolific run of goal scoring. He scored in a friendly with Ecuador on March 30, powering Japan to its first ever win against South American opposition. And as the leading Japanese scorer in the J. League, he has every chance of making the World Cup squad.

The Man in Form
Zico must have been impressed by Sato's recent performances. Five minutes from the end of the Ecuador game, Santos Alessandro ran onto a through-pass from Ogasawara Mitsuo down the left and delivered a cross. Arriving with impeccable timing, Sato slotted the ball home with the inside of his left foot to clinch a 1-0 victory for Japan. He had only been on the pitch for ten minutes, but he showed he has the ability to take whatever chances come his way.

In a J. League game with Cerezo Osaka on April 22, meanwhile, Sato set a new league record for the fastest goal in a match, finding the net after just eight seconds. "I don't think I'll be picked for the World Cup squad from a team in the lower reaches of the J. League. I have to help my team climb the league, even if it's just by a single place," commented the young striker. Sato netted 18 goals last season, making him the leading scorer among Japanese J. League players. He is also the second leading scorer among Japanese players this season, with seven goals so far. He seems to have hit form at just the right time.

Tamada Keiji shoots against Bulgaria. (Jiji)

Tough Choices
Potential World Cup squad members have been trying their best to impress Zico ahead of the squad announcement. Competition for places is especially fierce among the attackers. Zico has great faith in the quartet of Kubo Tatsuhiko, Takahara Naohiro, Oguro Masashi, and Yanagisawa Atsushi, but Yanagisawa is facing a race against time to recover from a broken toe in his right foot.

Japan played Bulgaria on May 9 (losing 2-1) and will play Scotland on May 13 in the Kirin Cup, and Zico has said that it will be hard for domestic-based players not selected for these two games to make the World Cup squad. A dazzling display by Sato or either of the other hopefuls, Tamada Keiji and Maki Seiichiro, could see them displace one of the more established strikers in the squad. With Europe-based forwards Okubo Yoshito and Suzuki Takayuki also vying for places, Zico has some very tough choices to make as he finalizes his squad.

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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