‘Goal’ Kubo follows ‘best friend’ Lee Kang-in to lead Japan to quarterfinals
Lee Kang-in and Kubo Takefusa were two of South Korea’s top soccer prospects who were sent to Spain as children and labeled “geniuses”. The two became best friends while playing together at RCD Mallorca and are now key players on the Korean and Japanese national soccer teams, leading their countries to the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup.
The Japan national football team advanced to the quarterfinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 2023 with a 3-1 victory over Bahrain in the Round of 16 at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar at 8:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Japan, who finished second in Group D, moved past South Korea into the round of 16 and will face the winner of the Iran-Syria match in the quarterfinals with a win over Bahrain, who topped Group E.
Japan took the lead in the 31st minute when Seiya Maikuma’s boldly struck right-footed mid-range shot from about 30 meters from goal hit the post hard, and the rebound ball was pounced on by Japanese striker Toan Ritsu, who took one touch before scoring with a left-footed shot.
Four minutes into the second half, Takefusa Kubo cut in from the left to the center of the field, and as the defense tried to clear it, the ball fell behind them and Kubo finished with a turning left-foot shot from inside the box to give Japan the lead.
Bahrain scored a late goal in the 19th minute. A Bahraini header from a corner kick on the left was punched away by Japan’s Ghanaian goalkeeper Zaion Suzuki. However, the punch was a bit clumsy, and when he tried to fly up and punch it again, Japanese forward Ayase Ueda flew up to clear it and got tangled up in it, resulting in an own goal. Japan’s players got tangled up and scored a bizarre own goal.
Japan’s own-goal hero, Ayase Ueda, scored the game-winner in the 27th minute with a low shot from the right half of the box following a brilliant run down the right side of the field to seal a 3-1 win and advance to the quarterfinals.
Kubo, who plays for Real Sociedad in Spain, is Japan’s best player. He was on fire again, scoring his team’s second goal and a one-man show on the winning goal to send Japan into the quarterfinals.
He followed in the footsteps of his best friend Lee Kang-in, who led South Korea to the quarterfinals the day before, defeating Saudi Arabia in a penalty shootout. Lee didn’t score a goal, but he was the hero of the game in Saudi Arabia with his best performance. Lee had already scored three goals in the group stage, putting him ahead of Kubo, who had just scored his first goal.
The two players are very similar in that they were two of the top soccer prospects in South Korea in 2001, and in 2011 they both traveled to Spain to study soccer, where they grew up and learned the game, and are now young starters for some of Europe’s top teams.
They became “best friends” while playing together in Mallorca and expressed their excitement on social media when Kubo’s Real Sociedad reached the round of 16 in the European Champions League, where they will face Lee’s Paris Saint-Germain.
The top Korean and Japanese soccer prospects, who grew up in Spain as children, have now grown up to become key players for the Korean and Japanese national soccer teams, leading their respective teams from the brink to the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup.