Qatar World Cup

November 8, 2022

2022 World Cup Countdown: Japan – is Asia’s hope on Samurai Blue

Japan will head to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 202 with aspirations of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time. The Samurai Blue have qualified for their seventh consecutive World Cup and reached the Round of 16 three times, but their fans are hoping Qatar will be the stage where Japanese football breaks new ground.

Japan have been drawn in Group E, which is widely considered to be a “group of death,” so progressing to the knockout stage presents a daunting challenge. But anything can happen at a World Cup, and Japan undoubtedly have the potential to spring a surprise and topple group heavyweights Spain and Germany.

Despite lacking a seasoned talisman such as attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda this time around, the emergence of a slew of gifted young players has culminated in a team that is as polished and talented as any that Japan has put on the pitch.

Players to watch: 

Takumi Minamino

Position: Forward

Age: 27

The Samurai Blue No10 shirt holds a special place in Japanese football, with Shunsuke Nakamura and Shinji Kagawa among the former stars that wore it and lit up football grounds around the world. Takumi Minamino now sports the famous jersey and shoulders the accompanying expectations of being the team’s go-to man.

Minamino created plenty of headlines in Japan when he moved to Liverpool for the 2019/20 season, and although he was not able to nail down a regular starting spot, he played a part in Liverpool’s charge to a first league title in 30 years. He was also a key contributor last season as the Reds went tantalisingly close to winning all four major trophies.

According to Anfield Watch, Minamino scored on average every 101 minutes in all competitions last season. This strike rate made him the most lethal of all Premier League players who played more than 1,000 minutes during the season, ahead of the likes of Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Daichi Kamada

Position: Attacking midfielder 

Age: 26

Daichi Kamada tasted football glory last season when his Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt won its first European trophy in 42 years by winning the UEFA Europa League, but the attacking midfielder’s path to the top has not always been smooth.

As a junior high school student, Kamada went through the youth academy of J.League powerhouse Gamba Osaka. However, injuries and fierce competition against the likes of central midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi hampered his progress. When he reached high school, the club let him go, but undeterred by this setback, Kamada flourished while playing for Higashiyama High School. Kamada’s abilities impressed J.League club Sagan Tosu, which signed him for the 2015 season.

Kamada’s brilliant performances in the J.League culminated in a move to the Bundesliga, where he continues to perform consistently well.

Takehiro Tomiyasu

Posistion: Defender

Age: 23

Now in his second year at Arsenal, defender Takehiro Tomiyasu has proven he has the ability to nullify the best strikers in the Premier League. After shifting to Europe when he was just 19, Tomiyasu has gone from strength to strength during his stints with Belgian club Sint-Truiden, Italian side Bologna and now the Gunners in England.

Mainly deployed as a right-back at Arsenal, Tomiyasu more often plays as a centre-back for the Samurai Blue. He modelled his game on that of Argentinian defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano, with whom he shares a superb ability to read the game. In addition to his obvious defensive skills, Tomiyasu is reliable when building up from the back and his accurate passes can quickly turn defence into attack.

The 1.88-metre Tomiyasu’s first sporting love was not football. Influenced by his two older sisters, his heart was set on becoming a swimmer. However, a jaw injury spoiled that plan. Tomiyasu tried football instead and has not looked back since.

Tomiyasu has developed into a key player for Japan and brings stability to both ends of the pitch. His formidable combination with vastly experienced captain Maya Yoshida will be tough for any opponent to crack.

Coach: Hajime Moriyasu

Moriyasu has been the coach of the side since 2018