ABU DHABI—Philippines defender Daisuke Sato hardly looked daunted when the Azkals went toe-to-toe with South Korea in the AFC Asian Cup opener that ended in 1-0 defeat on Monday.
But the Filipino-Japanese’s chance meeting with his idols left him awestruck as soon as the Azkals arrived in its hotel at the capital city of the United Arab Emirates.
Four-time Asian Cup champion Japan is staying in the same hotel with the Azkals, near the Zayed Sports City Stadium.
No other player from the Philippine team had looked forward to meeting the Japanese players than Sato, who was born in Davao City but grew up in Sendai, Japan.FEATURED STORIES
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“When I was young I always looked up to them,” said Sato, whose mother Elma Caumanday was an English teacher in Japan, where he met his father, Toshiyuki Sato, an engineer.
“It was kind of like my dream, to play with them, play against them and now we are here in the same competition.”
On top of playing against continental heavyweights, moments like meeting his childhood heroes have made a first appearance in the quadrennial competition a memorable one for Sato—and the rest of the Azkals who were playing the China Dragons at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium at press time.
Growing up, Sato idolized Yuto Nagatomo, the 32-year-old Japan star, who has played most of his career in Europe.