Ayase Ueda On His Way To Becoming The National Team’s “Absolute Ace” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Ayase Ueda On His Way To Becoming The National Team’s “Absolute Ace”

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On November, the second round of Asian qualifying for the 2026 World Cup in North and Central America will finally begin. Hajime Moriyasu will have to fight an “unbeaten streak” in order to achieve their long-cherished goal of finishing in the top eight, but first they must win the Asian Cup in Qatar in January to February next year to secure the title of Asian champions. The two upcoming international friendlies against Canada (Niigata, October 13) and Tunisia (Kobe, October 17) will provide valuable testing grounds for the team.

While Qatar World Cup ’22 members Maeda Daisen (25, Celtic) and Kaoru Mitoma (26, Brighton) will not be participating, Takumi Minamino (28, Monaco) and newcomer Kanji Okunuki (24, Nürnberg) have been called up, but it is the competition for the starting midfield that is of most concern.

Takuma Asano (28, Bochum), Kyogo Furuhashi (28, Celtic), and Ayase Ueda (25, Feyenoord) participated in the October series. Although Asano has the better track record, Ueda’s recognition is increasing after he secured a place in the starting lineup in the game against Germany (Wolfsburg) in September and scored the winning goal.

Ueda in the first European CL match against Atletico de Madrid.

Ueda made his national team debut in Copa America (Brazil) in 2019 while he was still a student at Hosei University, and has been trained by Moriyasu from an early age. Kashima Antlers coach Daiki Iwamasa (41), with whom Ueda played for from the summer of 2019 to the summer of 2022, commented, “It is rare to find a FW with such a good shot. I am very much looking forward to seeing how far Ayase can go.”


Atsushi Yanagisawa (46, current Kashima Antlers manager), who also played for Kashima in the 2002 World Cup in Japan-Korea and the 2006 World Cup in Germany, said, “He is fast, powerful, and has a great way of receiving the ball.” Mitsuo Ogasawara  (44, Academy technical advisor) also praised him, saying, “He is the best header I have ever seen in a FW.”

However, his national team career up to this point has not been smooth sailing, and although he was expected to be the ace FW for the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021, he was unable to play properly due to injury and lost his spot to the underdog, Daichi Hayashi (26, Nürnberg). In 2022, he was called up to the A-team again, but was unable to score goals.

Ueda smiles when interviewed by the author.

Ueda, keenly aware of the need for further development, moved to Cercle Brugge of Belgium’s first division last summer, knowing the risk of being dropped from the national team. At that point, he had scored 14 goals in J1 and could have been the top scorer if he had not moved to Cercle Brugge. However, Ueda said, “Even if I scored 20 goals (in the J-League) and became the top scorer, I would not be able to play in the World Cup. You have to have the skills to be able to play in the World Cup overseas,” and he chose to challenge overseas.


At first, he had a hard time playing in games in his new country, but he gradually got into the swing of things and scored seven goals before the World Cup. He was selected for the national team for the World Cup in Qatar just in time. However, in the tournament, Maeda was used as the first-choice player because of his ability to win the ball by pressing hard from the front line. Ueda started in the second match against Costa Rica, but was unable to do a proper job and was replaced after only the first 45 minutes. He felt humiliated on his first world stage.


When the author interviewed Ueda in Belgium in February of this year, he said, “I am very happy that I was able to play at the World Cup in Qatar, where I was able to play up to the world standard.”

“I realized that players like Kaoru Mitoma (26, Brighton) and Ritsu Doan (25, Freiburg), who have played in the top five major European leagues, are capable of showing their abilities on that big stage.”

I wonder what I could have done against Germany and Spain if I had been able to do nothing against Costa Rica. (In order to close the gap (with Misumi and others), I have no choice but to work on my own updates on a daily basis.

Ueda’s strong sense of urgency and relentless effort have paid off, and he has scored 22 goals in the Belgian league. Toward the end of the season, he was assigned to the first position, a position he had longed to play, and he was able to compete with the large, stout foreign defenders in an imposing manner. It was expected that a big club would take him this summer after his development in such a short period of time, and as expected, he joined last season’s Dutch champions Feyenoord. Just one year after leaving Kashima, he earned the right to play in the UEFA Champions League (European CL).

“I think there are a lot of things that I have accumulated and grown in the six months since the World Cup in Qatar ended. The feeling of scoring points is the same, and since my team has changed and my playing style and intensity have evolved, I think I can play with a different feeling and a different frame of mind than I had then (at the World Cup in Qatar).”

As Ueda said before the international friendly against Germany in Wolfsburg on September 10, he approached the match with a relaxed attitude, which led to the goal that crushed the Germans. His immediate reaction to Junya Ito’s (30, Stade de Reims) cross-like ball was an unmistakable sign of his development.

In September, he scored against a strong German team.

In his European CL debut against Atlético de Madrid on October 3, Ueda was again in the starting lineup for Feyenoord, and he made a sharp move early on to set up an own goal for the hosts. He struggled to get on the scoresheet as a top scorer as he was stiff-armed by a hundred-plus defenders, including former Belgium international Axel Witsel (34) and former Spain international Cesar Azpilicueta (34), but this kind of experience is sure to be a great source of food for thought.


Although his rival Furuhashi is also participating in the European CL, he is not required to do much work such as creating a tame position with a large DF on his back. Rather, he is a scorer who specializes in getting behind the DF. In this case, the number of situations in which he can be used is limited. Asano is also a player who pushes hard with his speed and is not a target man type. In this case, it would be beneficial for the future of the national team to have the versatile Ueda at the center of the team.


Looking back at the past, there have not been so many absolute FWs in Japan’s national team who can score goals, create chances, and work hard in defense.

France’s Masashi Nakayama (56, Azul Claro Numazu coach) of in 1998, Takayuki Suzuki (47, commentator) and Yanagisawa of Japan and Korea in 2002, Naohiro Takahara (44, Okinawa SV) of Germany in 2006, and Yuya Osako (33, Kobe) of Russia in 2006 were used as the first-choice players in past World Cups, but at the same time, it is true that a talent shortage was being reported.

At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Takeshi Okada (67, current vice president of the JFA) removed Shinji Okazaki (37, Sint-Truidense) and replaced him with Keisuke Honda (37). Honda did a good job despite his confusion, saying, “I see a different landscape,” and Japan made the top 16. This was nothing but a bitter pill to swallow. A versatile midfielder with a big scale is what the Japanese soccer world has been waiting for for years.

The current Ayase Ueda has the potential to reach that level. Although it is not a matter of concern that he has been out of the national team due to injury every time he came to the national team in June and September of this year, the 25-year-old has raised the bar even higher with his debut in the European CL, and his breakthrough will come from this point on. First of all, it is important for him to get a solid result against Canada and Tunisia in October to set the stage for the future.

  • Interview and text by Etsuko Motokawa Etsuko Motokawa Photo Afro (1st and 3rd) Etsuko Motokawa (2nd)

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