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Japan's FIFA World Cup Roster Features an Influx of Youth

Samurai Blue manager Hajime Moriyasu made 19 first-time selections out of 26 players for the upcoming 32-nation tournament in Qatar.

Japan national team manager Hajime Moriyasu announces the roster for the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup on November 1 in Tokyo. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

In selecting Japan's 2022 FIFA World Cup roster, men's national team manager Hajime Moriyasu assembled a squad that will rely heavily on tournament debutantes.

The Samurai Blue's prospects at the quadrennial tourney will be greatly impacted by how the 19 first-time selections perform on the pitch in Qatar.

Moriyasu, who has led the national team since July 2018, unveiled the 26-man roster on Tuesday, November 1.

The three most-capped players are defenders Yuto Nagatomo (137), captain Maya Yoshida (121) and goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima (95). Kawashima, who competes for French Ligue 1 club Strasbourg, is the oldest player at age 39.

Yoshida (German Bundesliga's Schalke 04) and defender Hiroki Sakai (J.League's Urawa Reds) are set to play in their third World Cup. Nagatomo and Kawashima await their fourth appearance.

Stepping Up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Before the World Cup kicks off, Japan will meet Canada in a final tuneup on November 17 in Dubai.

The Samurai Blue face a tough draw in their quest to advance past the group stage. Up next: World No. 24 Japan faces Group E foes Germany (November 23), Costa Rica (November 27) and Spain (December 1). 

Spain, currently ranked seventh in the world, won the 2010 World Cup and Germany, the 2014 champion, is 11th. Costa Rica is ranked 31st. (The world's current top five are Brazil, Belgium, Argentina, France and England.)

"Our goal for the tournament is to reach the quarterfinal," Moriyasu told a news conference on Tuesday. "We know it won't be easy."

Since qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 1998, Japan has a history of bowing out in either the group stage or round of 16, alternating between the two. 

In 1998, 2006 and 2014, the Samurai Blue didn't make it past the group stage. In 2002, 2010 and 2018, they reached the round of 16.

If that pattern repeats itself, advancing past the group stage won't happen. But Moriyasu has more ambitious goals.

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Roster Breakdown

For Moriyasu's stated target to materialize, an infusion of youth will be a defining theme of Japan's World Cup campaign.

Ten of the Samurai Blue's players are 25 years old or younger: Takefusa Kubo (21), Takehiro Tomiyasu and Hiroki Ito (both 23), Ritsu Doan, Ao Tanaka and Ayase Ueda (all 24) and Kaoru Mitoma, Daizen Maeda, Ko Itakura and Yuta Nakayama (all 25). Kubo and Tomiyasu were among the key players who suited up for Japan's Tokyo Olympics quad, helping the host nation earn a fourth-place finish.

Twenty of the 26 footballers ply their craft in Europe, representing teams in England, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Scotland and Monaco.

The J.League's representatives are goalie Shuichi Gonda (Shimizu S-Pulse) and defenders Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Shogo Taniguchi and Miki Yamane (Kawasaki Frontale), Yuki Soma (Nagoya Grampus) and Sakai.

"I've made the best, comprehensive selection possible, placing importance on our activities thus far, the situations the players are facing [at their clubs] and keeping in mind how we plan to play at the World Cup," Moriyasu said. "There really are lots of players in all positions that could have been picked. It was extremely difficult."

What were the key factors in how Moriyasu selected the players?

"Selecting members with the experience was one option," he said. "But ultimately we decided to bet on the players who didn't have that but had the burning ambition to succeed at the World Cup."

Thriving on the Global Stage

While Kubo has received a ton of media attention in recent years, midfielder Daichi Kamada has elevated his profile in recent weeks, raising expectations for what he might accomplish in the World Cup.

A 26-year-old midfielder for German club Eintracht Frankfurt, Kamada has scored in three consecutive Champions League matches. Kamada hit his target on a 62nd-minute penalty in a 2-1 victory over Group D foe Sporting Lisbon in the Portuguese capital on Tuesday. With the win, Frankfurt booked a spot in the continental tournament's final 16.

"[Playing in] the World Cup is the culmination of a player's club performance," Kamada was quoted as saying by Kyodo News on the same day. "I'm in good condition at the moment, so I feel I have some degree of confidence."

Among the well-known players left off the World Cup roster are Yuya Osako (Vissel Kobe), Genki Haraguchi (Germany's Union Berlin) and Kyogo Furuhashi and Reo Hatate, both of whom play for Celtic FC of the Scottish Premiership.

Samurai Blue's 2022 World Cup Roster

Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Strasbourg), Shuichi Gonda (Shimizu S-Pulse), Daniel Schmidt (Sint-Truiden)

Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Maya Yoshida (Schalke), Hiroki Sakai (Urawa Reds), Shogo Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale), Miki Yamane (Kawasaki Frontale), Ko Itakura (Borussia Monchengladbach), Yuta Nakayama (Huddersfield), Hiroki Ito (Stuttgart), Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal)

Midfielders/forwards: Gaku Shibasaki (Leganes), Wataru Endo (Stuttgart), Junya Ito (Reims), Takuma Asano (Bochum), Takumi Minamino (Monaco), Hidemasa Morita (Sporting Lisbon), Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt), Yuki Soma (Nagoya Grampus), Kaoru Mitoma (Brighton), Daizen Maeda (Celtic), Ritsu Doan (Freiburg), Ayase Ueda (Cercle Brugge), Ao Tanaka (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Takefusa Kubo (Real Sociedad)


Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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