Players boost football team

Southland United football players (from left) Kazuhiro Obata, Shunsuke Ito and Hayato Wakino at the ILT Football Turf. Photo: Sanda Jukic

INVERCARGILL’S Southern Premier League football team has been reinforced by three players from Japan this season.

Kazuhiro Obata, Shunsuke Ito and Hayato Wakino joined Southland United in March.

Midfielder Wakino (24) played in Germany, Australia, Finland and Latvia before coming to the deep south.

“Playing football in New Zealand is different than playing in Europe, for sure. What I like about the game here is the contact on the field. New Zealanders play soccer the same as rugby, with lots of contact,” he said.

Defenders Obata (28) and Ito (22) are sharing their knowledge about football by coaching an Old Boys junior team.

Before they came to Invercargill, Obata played in Australia and Sri Lanka while Ito played in the Japanese amateur league.

Southland United coach Luis Paiva said a Japanese footballer he played with last year suggested the three players to him.

“Early this year when we were building the squad we lost three important players and became short, so one of the options was to bring someone from other parts of the country or from overseas,” Paiva said.

The coach said they all brought different qualities as individual players but what they had in common was the mentality of working hard.

“They are training better every week and this ends up being contagious and it influences their team-mates. Some of the young boys have them as a reference and they have been helping a lot, not just on the field but also off the field,” he said.

“Kazu is the voice of command in the back, Hayato is a talent and a game changer and Ito is a left-footed fullback, something hard to find in the region.”

Southland United’s next game is against Green Island FC from Dunedin on Thursday, July 13, at the ILT Football Turf at 7pm.