- Genki Haraguchi has scored four goals in Round 3 of Russia 2018 Asia qualifying
- Haraguchi says his move to Germany has been "fundamental" to his development
- Japan are in first place in Group B, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia
When thinking of Japan's football past and contemporary history, players like Hidetoshi Nakata, Kazuyoshi Miura, Yasuhito Endo, Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki probably come to mind first.
However, on the road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, a new star is quickly emerging for the Samurai Blue. Scoring four crucial goals in round three of qualifying, Genki Haraguchi's recent performances have catapulted him to the top of coach Vahid Halilhodzic's first-choice options in attack.
"I believe that putting in effort on a daily balance leads to results," Haraguchi told FIFA.com. "Without having that, it wouldn't be possible to carry out tomorrow something we cannot do today. That’s why I want to continue playing football. I want to become a football player, an athlete, that children look up to."
Haraguchi joined Hertha Berlin in the German Bundesliga not long after celebrating his 23rd birthday, having spent his entire football upbringing with Urawa Reds.
"At the beginning, I had many difficulties because I wasn't playing," said Haraguchi. "It was hard for me with all the differences in daily life. It might not have been possible to continue playing in Germany if I was all alone, and I think the presence of my wife (Ruriko) was very important for that."
"I’m very happy to have been able to carry on my life in Germany," said Haraguchi. "That was possible thanks to all the things I’ve learned during these last three years in an environment with a different language and lifestyle. That development was fundamental."
His ability to overcome adversity then came into play during Japan's latest round of Russia 2018 qualifying. The Samurai Blue suffered a shock defeat by United Arab Emirates on home soil to open up Group B play. In their next match in Bangkok against Thailand five days later, only three points would do for the Japanese.
"Before the game against Thailand, I was very disappointed. Together with all the staff and players, we tried to create a good ambience to get the victory after that defeat in the opening game of this final round."
Their efforts behind the scenes did the trick. Haraguchi scored 15 minutes into the match to jumpstart their campaign and get the country, who has a proud history in Asian football, back on track.
After getting off to a rocky start, Haraguchi and Japan have rebounded and now lead Group B after seven matches. Haraguchi has scored four crucial goals during that stretch of matches. They face Iraq in Tehran on 13 June before two crucial top-of-the-table meetings with Australia on 31 August and Saudi Arabia on 5 September.
"Our predecessors have written 'Best 8' in the past. I think we should keep writing history with even better results. This is our role, and we have to carry this on to the next generation."