For the first time in a protracted whereas, Japan head to a FIFA World Cup arguably with none confirmed A-grade expertise with the uncanny means to affect sport on their very own.
In latest years, their performances on soccer’s greatest stage have been fuelled by the likes of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and even Shinji Okazaki. Going additional again, there have been standouts like Shunsuke Nakamura, Yasuhito Endo and Shinji Ono.
Even when the Samurai Blue made their World Cup debut again in 1998, it proved to be the stage for a sure Hidetoshi Nakata to come to the fore and ultimately earn a transfer to Europe.
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This 12 months, as they brace for powerful tests at Qatar 2022 towards Spain and Germany — in addition to a less-daunting however equally-tricky tie with Costa Rica — it’s tough to spotlight one particular particular person that may be integral to their fortunes.
To look at it negatively would be to merely say that this Samurai Blue group is bereft of star gamers.
But that isn’t to say there is no such thing as a real high quality at coach Hajime Moriyasu’s disposal.
It is in any case a group sport. And with no clear dangerman for opposition groups to channel their consideration on, the Japanese could even have a component of unpredictability they didn’t possess in earlier years.
So in lieu of 1 single X-factor participant, who’re the less-recognisable names that could mix to gas Japan’s quest to attain the Round of 16?
The most evident candidate is former Liverpool attacker Takumi Minamino, who has succeeded Kagawa in each the No. 10 jersey and the playmaker-in-chief duties.
Minamino’s resume is spectacular sufficient but he has not loved the better of occasions in latest years, and his type has hardly picked up since leaving Liverpool for Monaco in search of higher first-team alternatives.
Instead, a similarly-hyped prospect that appears likelier to star for the Samurai Blue in Qatar is Takefusa Kubo.
Still solely 21, Kubo can already depend each Barcelona and Real Madrid amongst his former golf equipment and is now discovering his ft in LaLiga since shifting to Real Sociedad on a everlasting deal at the begin of this season.
Another man that has discovered type in the lead-up to the World Cup is Kaoru Mitoma, who could type a potent double act with Kubo down each wings.
Having had to bide his time for a shot in the Brighton lineup, the silky-skilled attacker’s ultimate three matches earlier than the World Cup break have been all begins — the place he contributed a formidable two objectives and an help.
Slightly additional again, Wataru Endo and Hidemasa Morita — each primarily based in Europe with Stuttgart and Sporting CP respectively — not often hog the headlines however are all the time assured to get the job achieved in holding midfield.
Yet, maybe the one man who could actually determine how far Japan get at the World Cup is Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada.
A revelation up to now this time period, Kamada has racked up 12 objectives in 22 matches enjoying for a group that’s at the moment fourth in the Bundesliga and thru to the knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League. And he performs in midfield.
Somewhat of a late bloomer, Kamada was hardly touted as a subsequent massive factor when he got here via at Sagan Tosu and, even after being signed by Frankfurt in 2017, he nonetheless had to serve his apprenticeship on mortgage in Belgium with Sint-Truiden.
Nonetheless, he ultimately earned his likelihood. Ten objectives in 48 video games in the 2019-20 season — his first 12 months again from that mortgage spell. Nine objectives in 46 appearances final time period, together with 5 in Frankfurt’s UEFA Europa League-winning marketing campaign.
To the place he’s now, a real rising star of the Bundesliga, even when it has come a giant later than traditional at the age of 26.
There are others with lots extra to supply the Samurai Blue.
The veterans Hiroki Sakai and Yuto Nagatomo that may supply stability in the fullback positions. Livewires Ritsu Doan, Junya Ito and Ao Tanaka, who could all present a second of magic. Even one-time Arsenal prospect Takuma Asano, who has most likely not kicked on as some would have anticipated in his membership profession however has a behavior of coming good for his nationwide group.
None of those gamers will be talked about as real A-listers in world soccer, nevertheless it is not going to hassle them nor Moriyasu.
Together, they could make for a top-quality group.
And in the event that they someway overcome both Germany or Spain and even squeeze their manner into the Round of 16 at this World Cup, there’s a excessive likelihood just a few of the Samurai Blue’s new generation will be considered stars by the time the match is over.