So, it has been announced. Here are the 18 players that will represent Japan at the Rio Olympic games, starting in August.
Masatoshi Kushibiki – Kashima Antlers
The tall goalkeeper is on loan at the J.League 1 first stage winners, but has yet to make an appearance this year, although he did play all the knockout stage games in Japan’s victorious Asian U23 campaign earlier this year.
Kosuke Nakamura – Kashiwa Reysol
An ascending talent, Nakamura drew rave reviews last year as helped Avispa Fukuoka to promotion from J2. He rejoined parent club Kashiwa and has made the number 1 job his own. He can’t be far away from full honours. He is the future of Japanese goalkeeping.
Hiroki Fujiharu – Gamba Osaka
One of the overage players in the squad, the dependable Fujiharu has been a mainstay of the generally successful Gamba Osaka side of the past few years. His attacking element – something that a modern full-back probably needs in his armoury – has been dulled in the past two seasons, but he was a key part of the Gamba side which did the treble in 2014, and got to the Championship game last year. A left back by trade, it seems almost certain that Fujiharu will bookend Sei Muroya in the defensive line.
Naomichi Ueda – Kashima Antlers
My favourite player in this squad. “Bancho” Ueda is uncompromising, no nonsense centre in the mold like you used to find English centre backs. Great in the air, and has good timing in the tackle, he is already used to playing big games with his club and I predict it won’t be long before he is a fixture in the full side. He plays with an aggression that is quite rare for Japanese defenders – he doesn’t back down and won’t give an inch. Has the potential – in my eyes – to be a real top class Japanese international for the next 6, 7, 8 years. An excellent talent.
Tsukasa Shiotani – Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Another overage defender, Shiotani has a wealth of winning experience coming from his time at Sanfrecce Hiroshima. The blond haired defender is very good at coming out of the backline with the ball at his feet.
Masashi Kamekawa – Avispa Fukuoka
You might think “why is an Avispa Fukuoka player in this squad? Aren’t they bottom of J1?” While that is true, Osaka native Kamekawa has been a relative bright spot in the Kyushu side’s rough season back in the top flight. Kamekawa really came into his own last year during Avispa’s ultimately successful assault on promotion to J1, showing his versatility by playing full back or wing back (depending on coach Masami Ihara’s tactical preference) on either side of the pitch. In 2016, he has been used almost exclusively on the left side, but with Hiroki Fujiharu in the squad as an overage player, one has to think whether or not Kamekawa will see playing time.
Sei Muroya – FC Tokyo
Until not so long ago, Muroya was university student. But now he has swapped his books for boots as an important part of Teguramori’s defence. A full back by nature, he looks good at getting up to support whoever is in front of him. Still a reasonably unknown quantity – he only made his FC Tokyo debut earlier this month – it will be interesting to see how he reacts to being in a big tournament so early in his development.
Takuya Iwanami – Vissel Kobe
The Vissel Kobe youth product partnered Naomichi Ueda in the final of the 2016 Asian U23 cup. Highly experienced despite his young age (he already has nearly 100 professional appearances for Vissel, he is only 23) he can bring a solidity to the backline if called upon. His chances of a starting place grew after Tatsuki Nara’s injury earlier this year.
Ryota Oshima – Kawasaki Frontale
Japan’s smooth ball playing midfielder, don’t let Oshima’s silky ways detract from the fact that he’s got a right foot like a rocket launcher when he decides to go for goal. Oshima has benefited from playing with one of Japan’s very best midfielders – Kengo Nakamura at Kawasaki – and you can see by the way he uses the ball that Kengo has taught him well. He doesn’t make the final pass very often, more he is heavily involved in the link up play, allowing others the space and freedom look for shots/final passes.
Wataru Endo – Urawa Reds
The captain of the side, and an enduring presence during Makoto Tegurimori’s reign as U23 coach. Endo, different from his role at Reds, acts as a holding midfielder most of the time, and uses his impressive passing skills to try and build play from deep. He is also tasked with screening the defence, something that his game is still developing (in my opinion).
Riki Harakawa – Kawasaki Frontale
Relatively tall and elegant, Harakawa has been pegged for a bright future by domestic observers in Japan, but has not really reached the heights that some people thought he might. From the relatively famous young player production line at Kyoto Sanga, he hs the ability to be a ball controller in the middle of the park, but he’s never really shown it – with the exception of an excellent run of form when he was on loan at J2 side Ehime FC. This past winter, he joined J1 League heavyweights Kawasaki Frontale in what looked like a match made in heaven – the attacking verve of Frontale should’ve melded well a player of Harakawa’s skills. But he’s found it difficult to get into the side this year, although when the direct competition is Kengo Nakamura, Ryota Oshima, Eduardo Netto and others, it isn’t something to get too opinionated on. He showed with his superb injury time winner against Iraq in the Asian U23 championship earlier this year that he has a nose for the big occasion, one wonders whether he’ll get the chance to show it on the biggest stage of all.
Shinya Yajima – Fagiano Okayama
The only representative from Japan’s second tier, Yajima has played exceptionally well in the past year for Fagiano Okayama. Very small in stature, that didn’t stop him scoring with his head in the Asian championships last year. Some people have questioned his inclusion. but he will bring pace and energy to whichever side of the formation he is asked to play on.
Shoya Nakajima – FC Tokyo
Arguably the most skillful player in the squad. Nakajima has been woefully underused by an FC Tokyo team that looks to be starved of creativity. Very skillful and good off either foot, Nakajima is capable of the spectacular goals and can find the final pass. Tends to do his best work on the flanks, where his skills can get him past defenders in one-on-one situations. One of my personal favourites in the squad, I’m really hoping Nakajima gets the chance to show what he can do in Rio.
Takumi Minamino – Red Bull Salzburg
A bit of a hothead in his days a trademarked “Cerezo youngster” – he has tried to mature in the idyllic surroundings of Salzburg in Austria. A bit of an all rounder, Minamino can play up top, off the striker in a false 9 role, or he can drift to the wings if needed. Much is expected in national team terms for Minamino. but for now it is still just potential.
Yosuke Ideguchi – Gamba Osaka
A highly athletic, energetic ball winning midfielder that is slowly become indispensible to his club side, Ideguchi looks destined for success in Japan. Japan doesn’t often produce these types of aggressive midfield players. That’s not to say he doesn’t have skill, because he does. When he wins the ball, he knows what to do with it, and that is get it to the creative players around him.
Shinzo Koroki – Urawa Reds
The overage forward in the squad, Koroki celebrated his call up by notching the winning goal at Avispa Fukuoka – and it was classic Koroki. Fine movement, good close control and a shot on target (which the keeper should have saved, but we’ll park that there for now). I was a bit surprised to see him in the squad, but pleasantly surprised. I like him as a player. Not the flashiest but does a lot of unselfish work and is very much a team player.
Yuya Kubo – Young Boys (Switzerland)
Kubo has benefitted from his football education in Europe. He left Kyoto Sanga in Japan as a raw prospect, but one that a lot of people had high hopes for. He’s progressed in Switzerland, a place where flashier players – I’m looking directly at you Yoichiro Kakitani – haven’t always fared well. He’s quite tall, decent in the air and has an accurate shot on him. He’s a hard worker, but then most Japanese forwards are. I’d like to see him cut loose a bit more, I’m always convinced when I see him that if he plays ‘angry’ he could do a lot of damage.
Takuma Asano (Arsenal)
It feels a bit weird to put ‘Arsenal’ next to Asano’s name, but the transfer went through last week so I had better get used to it. Fast, direct and strong – Asano has all the attributes to be a good striker. A striker at the very top level? I’m yet to be convinced, but after a year or two developing in Europe, we should have a fairer idea as to his potential.