Okazaki thrilled to realise Champions League dream


Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki says he is relishing the opportunity to play in the Champions League next season.

Okazaki was an off-season signing from Mainz, where he scored 27 goals in 65 Bundesliga appearances, and has put away five in 31 Premier League games this season.

The 29-year-old is set to play in Europe's premier club competition next season, after Leicester confirmed their place in the top four with a 2-0 win over Sunderland, which left them seven points ahead of second-placed Tottenham at the top of the Premier League table.

The Japan international said playing Champions League football had never entered his wildest dreams when he signed for Leicester.

"I can't imagine it. But once I'm finally on the big stage, I might have a better understanding and see it differently," he told Omnisport.

"I'm one of the few Japanese players who hasn't played in the Champions League despite playing in Europe for a number of years. I always wanted to move onto the European stage.

"If I can play, it will be a big step for me and Leicester City."

While Okazaki might be a Champions League novice, he has long been a key contributor for his national team, having earned 100 senior caps for Japan.

The former Stuttgart and Shimizu S-Pulse man is anticipating another tough road to the World Cup after being drawn in the same group as Asian Cup holders Australia and former champions Iraq in the third round of AFC qualifying.

But while he anticipates tough games from both those teams, he is most looking forward to a revenge mission against the United Arab Emirates, who knocked Japan out of the 2015 Asian Cup in the quarter-finals.

"First of all, I'm delighted to face UAE again," he said.

"I really wanted UAE in our group. I can't forget the humiliation. I really wanted to beat them in the qualifiers. This is my first impression when I saw the draw.

"About Australia, we are always in the same group. That's my impression. [Former Socceroos goalkeeper] Mark Schwarzer is here [at Leicester] and I spoke with Mark about it. Overall, there are no easy matches.

"As everybody says, the standard of Asian football is improving and world football's level is also rising quickly nowadays. We can't get wins easily in Asia anymore."