His name probably doesn’t tell you much, maybe nothing. However, Daniel Schmidt is considered one of the leaders of Japan, placed in group E of this World Cup with Germany, Spain and Costa Rica. Better still, the 30-year-old is even considered one of the best goalkeepers in the Belgian championship where he has played since his arrival in Europe in 2019.
With his German-sounding name, ancestors born in Germany and German club coaches, Daniel Schmidt still has a certain connection across the Rhine where eight of his teammates selected for this World Cup in Qatar will become. A few days before the meeting between Japan and Germany (Wednesday, November 23, 2:00 p.m.), the porter spoke to Eurosport Germany.
Daniel Schmidt, Japan faces Germany for its entry into the running in this 2022 World Cup. In Saint-Truiden, your coach, his assistant, as well as the goalkeeper coach are German. Has this game against Mannschaft been a topic of discussion in recent days?
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Daniel Schmidt: They probably assume that Germany will beat us… But they also define that Japan has a chance in this game. I also agree with them: I really think we have a chance.
Did your coaches give you any tips for playing this game?
DS: So far there hasn’t really been any advice, they just wished me luck. But even if they were to say something, I wouldn’t listen to them (laughs). We sometimes make jokes and we room in relation to this meeting.
What is your relationship with Saint-Truiden coach Bernd Hollerbach and his assistant Markus Pflanzen? And what role does goalkeeping coach Dennis Rudel play?
DS: They are all very nice to me. Of course, I spend a lot of time with Dennis Rudel. He really helps me become a better goaltender. We analyze a lot of things, not only my own performances, but also those of other goalkeepers. He shows me strong actions from other goalkeepers, especially those from the Bundesliga. We also try to learn from them.
How did you react when you learned of the draw? As a reminder, Japan will face Germany, Spain and Costa Rica.
DS: Honestly, it’s a really tough band. But if we manage to reach the round of 16, it will already be a great achievement. We want to prove to the whole world that Japanese football is on the rise. This group is a great opportunity for us to show it. Our objective is the quarter-finals, we have never done better. In 2018, for example, we lost against Belgium in the round of 16.
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You compete with Eiji Kawashima and Shuichi Gonda for the starting position. Do you know who will start in goal against Germany on Wednesday?
DS: The decision has not yet been made. Other goalies played during the playoffs. I played the last friendly match against Ecuador (editor’s note, end of September 2022) and I think I performed quite well. I may also have a chance to play this World Cup.
Who are your favorites for the title and do you think Germany can go all the way?
DS: Germany have a good team. There are many players who play in the biggest leagues and in the best teams. I think Germany is one of those teams that can become world champions. But my favourite, at present, remains France.
You have a German surname. What ties do you keep with Germany? Do you speak the language?
DS: Actually, only my last name is German. My dad is from there, but he moved to the States and I was born in Illinois. On the other hand, I don’t know exactly which generation of my family immigrated to the United States from Germany. It must have been in the generations long before my grandfather, so a long time ago.
You always played in Japan until 2019. Why did you choose to go to Belgium?
DS: My goal has always been to come to Europe. In 2019, when Saint-Trond’s request came on the table, I didn’t hesitate, I took a chance.
Daniel Schmidt – VV Sint-Truiden
What differences have you observed between Japanese football and European football so far?
DS: Japanese football is a little more “loan” than European football. The pace of attacks is not so high, you have more time to defend, to organize yourself and also more time in possession. When I arrived in Belgium, I really felt the game changing tempo constantly, that things went quickly in defense and then in attack. That’s the biggest difference.
Do you have models? What do you think of the three Mannschaft goalkeepers Manuel Neuer, Marc-André ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp?
DS: I always follow the German goalkeepers closely. I like their style of play, how they compose themselves in duels, how they attack the ball. All the German goalkeepers who play in the Bundesliga, but also Marc-André ter Stegen in Barcelona, are role models for me. When I was ten, the World Cup was held in Japan and South Korea. At that time, I saw the stops of Oliver Kahn. He was the best player in the tournament.
In your club, in Saint-Trond, there is a strong Japanese influence since no less than five Japanese play there. Did it help you in your acclimatization to Belgium?
DS: Yes, they were a big help when I arrived in Europe. Now it’s my turn to help the Japanese players who come to Belgium.
Shinji Kagawa, I always saw him on TV and he was one of my idols, now we play together!
How is it to play alongside experienced former Bundesliga players like Shinji Kagawa or Shinji Okazaki?
DS: It was actually a strange feeling when I heard: Shinji Kagawa is coming to Sint-Truiden! I always saw him on TV and he was one of my idols, now we play together, even though we are about the same age: he is 33, I am 30. However, I have played for a long time as an amateur. After graduating from college, I didn’t turn professional until I was 22. Playing on a team with Shinji Kagawa now feels like a dream.
Apart from achieving a good World Cup, what are your plans for the future?
DS: I always try to improve myself and take the next step. But for that, I have to focus on my performances in the Jupiler League and with the selection. I don’t think too much about my next challenge. One of my ambitions is to play in the Premier League. If I could go to the Bundesliga or Ligue 1, that would be good too. Spain or Italy would also interest me, but it’s a bit more complicated because of their rules for foreign players. An offer from the Premier League? No not yet. I think it shows: I have to work even harder! (laughs)
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