‘Japanese Messi’ Kubo named in Copa America squad

Japan’s Takefusa Kubo, (left) will be part of the Copa America squad in Brazil. (AFP pic)

TOKYO: Teenage sensation Takefusa Kubo won his first senior Japan call-up Friday when he was named in coach Hajime Moriyasu’s squad for next month’s Copa America in Brazil.

The FC Tokyo midfielder, who was invited to Barcelona’s youth academy as a pint-sized nine-year-old where he earned the nickname the “Japanese Messi”, is one of no fewer than 17 uncapped players as Japan look to build for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Kubo, 17, will also be available for Japan’s home warm-up games against Trinidad and Tobago on June 5 and El Salvador on June 9, Japanese officials said.

“Teams like the hosts Brazil will definitely be serious about winning,” Kubo told local media.

“But even though we are playing as guests we will have to match the desire of our opponents when we get on the pitch.”

Moriyasu left big-name players such as Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki out of his Asian Cup squad earlier this year when the Blue Samurai were beaten 3-1 in the final by Qatar in Abu Dhabi.

“We are looking to bring in a new generation of players,” Moriyasu said on Friday.

“It is important for them to get exposure of the game at this level.”

Japan face Chile, Uruguay and Ecuador in Group C at the Copa America, which kicks off on June 14.

“Many of the players are in the under-23 Olympic age range,” added Moriyasu. “This is a good opportunity for them to gain some valuable experience.”

Leicester forward Okazaki and Strasbourg goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima were, however, retained by Moriyasu.

Qatar, who host the 2022 World Cup, will also take part, taking on Lionel Messi’s Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay in Group B.