Le Tonquet: Japan’s Riko Ueki has been ruled out of FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 contention after suffering an injury on the eve of the competition, with the 19-year-old replaced by fellow U-20 Women’s World Cup-winner Saori Takarada.
The NTV Beleza youngster reportedly suffered a knock to her right knee playing in a domestic league match on May 19, with the resulting injury unable to be sufficiently recuperated in time for the Finals.
Ueki is seen as a future star for Asako Takakura’s side, having scored the winning goal in their 2017 AFC U-19 Women’s Championship final victory over DPR Korea, before enjoying a breakout tournament at the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, where she scored five goals in six matches to help Japan to the title.
In a Japan Football Association media release, Ueki – who made her senior international debut in April – expressed her disappointment at missing a chance to feature at France 2019.
“I’m very sorry that I got injured just before (the tournament), and I cannot appear on the World Cup stage,” she said.
“However, based on this experience, I will return to this team again and do my best.”
While Ueki’s loss is a blow for Japan, it provides an opportunity for Young Nadeshiko attacking partner Takarada, who has been drafted into the squad in her place.
The Cerezo Osaka striker, also 19, has a similarly impressive resumé at youth level, having scored five goals despite limited playing time at the 2017 AFC U-19 Women’s Championship, before scoring five more in Japan’s U-20 Women’s World Cup triumph, including one in the final as the East Asians beat Spain 3-1.
Japan’s last-minute personnel change comes ahead of their final pre-tournament friendly, also against Spain, on Sunday, before their FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 campaign begins with an eagerly-waited tie against Argentina in Paris on June 10.