A childhood friend reveals the boys’ manga-like past of Kaoru Mitoma and Ao Tanaka. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

A childhood friend reveals the boys’ manga-like past of Kaoru Mitoma and Ao Tanaka.

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While all of Japan was filled with joy after beating the powerful Germany and Spain to advance past the first-place group stage, once again the World Cup of Soccer failed to go beyond the barrier of the last 16. Although the result was disappointing, the most significant achievement of the World Cup this year was the attention paid to the players whose future we can look forward to.

Keisuke Honda, who was commentating for the first time on ABEMA’s live broadcast, was especially impressed with the players, saying, “Something happens when the ball goes to Misumi-san” (against Germany), “Misumi-san’s play is amazing,” and “He will be a big club when the World Cup is over” ( against Croatia). Kaoru Mitoma (25) (Brighton/England ) is a player whose future development is something to look forward to.

His pass to Minamino, which set up the equalizer against Germany, was superb. But I thought Kaoru could do more.

Kaoru is a childhood friend of Koji Kishi (Evrytha Fujisawa United), who played with him in Kawasaki Frontale’s lower organization.
What did Kishi think of Misumi’s performance at this year’s tournament?

There was a scene in the extra time against Croatia where he took the ball in all by himself and ended up shooting. Normally, I would have aimed for the groin when shooting (i.e., let the defender put his foot out and shoot between the two open legs). I had practiced this many times since I was a youth player. But when I saw the Croatian player hit a different course instead of the crotch when he put his foot out, I felt that he didn’t have enough room. I guess this is the pressure of competing on the world stage.”

Misumi (left) and Kishi (right) in elementary school.

Ao Tanaka (24) (Düsseldorf/Germany), who scored the final goal against Spain, is a junior at the same club.

Heki is one year younger than me, and we were on the same team until I graduated from high school. In elementary school, Aoi was a pampered and energetic girl who talked a lot with everyone around her. During practice, she was not the type to work silently like Kaoru, but rather to practice energetically while brightening the atmosphere of the place.

However, until junior high school, he had no idea that Tanaka would become a professional.

Heki’s strength started to increase when he entered the youth team. He listened to and absorbed what he heard from various people around him and incorporated it into his daily practice. He must have been inspired by Kaoru’s play at the youth team. At that time, I felt that I wanted to become a professional and that I had to work hard anyway to get to the top. Kaoru had a genius streak that even if I taught him how to play like that, he wouldn’t be able to do it, but I have the impression that Aoi is a solid player. I felt safe when Aoi was behind me, and she helped me many times.

Misumi and Tanaka were so close that they were called “brothers.

Kaoru and Heki went to the same elementary and junior high school together, and they were really close. After practice, we would do core training together, and we were together all the time. We were always together, and our moods were a bit similar, so people around us called us ‘brothers. When other players were talking about something other than soccer after a hard practice, we would talk about how to dribble through that area. I guess Kaoru was nearby and he was following his back.

In the match against Spain, Tanaka dove in to score a spectacular final goal with a turnaround just short of the line that stunned the world as “a millimeter of Misuzu’s line. The moment the team defeated Spain and advanced out of the group stage, the sight of Mitsumata and Tanaka embracing and rejoicing as they rolled onto the pitch was one of the most moving scenes at this year’s tournament.

I often saw this scene (laughs). (Laughs.) I saw them making out a lot. Ever since I was in the youth team, when Kaoru scored, Aoi was the first one to jump in. I never thought I would see that scene on the world stage.

Unfortunately, the team did not make it past the last 16 at this year’s tournament. What will Kishi say to Misumi the next time he sees him?

First of all, I would say, “Good job. Then, I would say to Kaoru, “That’s a crotch,” and I would make a comment about his play. We don’t talk about dark things since we were youth players.

Mitsumata in elementary school

Kishi concluded by expressing his high expectations for Misuzumi.

I think Kaoru will be more active in the next tournament. He hasn’t scored any goals in this tournament, so I expect him to score at least three goals next time.

In an interview after the match against Croatia, Kaoru Mitoma shed tears of frustration, saying, “I think we have to do our best to win.
I am sure that in four years’ time, he will show us a “new view” with his even more polished play.

  • Interview and text Nakahira

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