It’s time for Tokyo 2020. Actually, Tokyo 2021: the Olympic Games are here, despite we’re still in the midst of a pandemic and Japan is suffering from it, with even many protests over the organization of these games. Despite that, Olympics are still happening, and Japan have now a huge chance of impressing the world in the football tournament, given the strength of their squad.
On top of that, the Samurai Blue must have a better performance than last time. In Rio 2016, the squad wasn’t as good as this one, but they surely had the chance of reaching at least the quarterfinals. Instead, the defeat in the opening game against Nigeria probably jeopardized the whole Group Stage. Japan racked up four points – with a draw against Colombia and a win over Sweden –, but it wasn’t enough to advance.
But what about those players? Where are they now? What have they gone through in the last five years? It’s time to revisit those profiles: in the first part of our walkthrough Memory Lane, our friend Tobias Dreimann (a.k.a. @ConDrei on Twitter) looked back at the goalkeepers and defenders from that 2016 squad.
Then: Avispa Fukuoka ➜ Now: Portimonense (POR)
Back then, Kosuke Nakamura was on his way to become the biggest talent in the goalkeeping position that the young Japanese football history had ever seen. While Shuichi Gonda in 2012 as well was on the brink to become a great goalkeeper, his mental state didn’t allow him to pursue a career at the top.
At that time just come back from a legendary year on loan to Avispa Fukuoka, Kosuke Nakamura was anyway on the path to grow a legacy with Kashiwa Reysol after the tournament. Yet, with two injuries to his head in 2018 Kosuke Nakamura’s career took a hit. While he was still crucial for Reysol’s comback from J2 in 2019, he appeared to have lost some of his easy-going nature on the line.
Another injury in late 2020 pulled Nakamura off the radar once again. Despite this, in the 2020/21 Winter transfer window he pulled off what many believed would only be a matter of time and moved for his first stint abroad to Porgutal. He joined Portimonense, which sorted out Shuichi Gonda before. At 26, Kosuke Nakamura still awaits a chance to show his talent in Europe to this day.
Then: Kashima Antlers ➜ Now: Montedio Yamagata
Kushibiki was one of those J.League U-22 members who had enough caps with that team to have this fact at least mentioned here. Before Rio 2016, Kushibiki became a little bit of a sensation: despite being just 19 years-old, he was frequently fielded with Shimizu S-Pulse in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. His skills led Kashima Antlers to believe in him, while they often relied on mature keepers like Hitoshi Sogahata or Kwoun Sun-tae.
In the end, Antlers clinched the young goalkeeper to join the Ibaraki-based club on a loan deal. After one season (and three games played), he returned to S-Pulse but couldn’t get a starting spot as well. His most recent move to Montedio Yamagata in J2 served him well, as he became starting GK in 2019 and 2020, yet this season he hardly got past both Victor Ibanez and Eisuke Fujishima.
Then: Sanfrecce Hiroshima ➜ Now: Al-Ain FC (UAE)
Tsukasa Shiotani was one of three overaged players that joined the Olympic squad in 2016. Having won three championships with Hiroshima in the years prior, Shiotani was part of one of the best defensive set-ups in Japanese football (if not the best one). Despite him playing all three matches and being a ductile player (he could also play as a defensive midfielder and as a full-back), Japan dropped out of the tournament early.
Furthermore, Sanfrecce didn’t compete for another title in 2016, so when the offer from Al-Ain came, Shiotani moved to the United Arab Emirates for his second-longest stint. A title under Croatian manager Zoran Mamic later, Shiotani will now be a free agent after this Summer. So far, no report came out about his future destination.
Then: Vissel Kobe ➜ Now: Urawa Red Diamonds
Back then, Kobe-born Iwanami was one of the most promising youngsters among the Samurai Blue. The 21 years-old center-back played for Vissel Kobe, but not yet the international and flash version which invested on recognized internationals Podolski, Iniesta and David Villa.
On the other hand, Iwanami remained a strong player on Vissel’s squad and therefore Urawa Red Diamonds opted to buy him for the 2018 season. Iwanami is still featuring in Saitama, although not to blame though for their lack of offense in recent years. Now 27, Iwanami still is one of the most interesting defenders of J. League.
Then: Kashima Antlers ➜ Now: Nîmes Olympique (FRA)
The older the goalkeeper, the younger Kashima Antlers fielded their defenders in 2016. Alongside Gen Shoji, 20 years-old Naomichi Ueda raised expectations for the Olympic tournament in 2016, but he couldn’t deliver. With Kashima Antlers, the pair composed by Shoji and Ueda left the record winning champion of Japanese football in 2018: Shoji moved to France, but Ueda opted to join Cercle Bruges.
After two and a half years though, Ueda couldn’t claim a starting spot on the Belgian side and was loaned to Ligue 1 side Nîmes Olympique, where he’s moving to permanently this summer.
Then: Gamba Osaka ➜ Now: Gamba Osaka
For the Samurai Blue in 2016, Hiroki Fujiharu was only an additional player despite being one the most marquee players on the left back position at that time. While he was still considered by Vahid Halilhodzic in early 2016, the Olympic tournament didn’t help him his case. The Gamba regular did not play another time for the Samurai Blue and his career didn’t progress as well. In 2021, at 32, an injury has left Fujiharu out (for now).
Then: Avispa Fukuoka ➜ Now: V-Varen Nagasaki
Starting his pro career with Shonan Bellmare at 19, Masashi Kamekawa is one of the unsung heroes of Japanese football. Since 2013, the wingback was a regular starter for any club he played for, yet couldn’t make a step up to show his strength for one of the major sides of Japanese football.
After three years with Avispa Fukuoka and one full season with Kashiwa Reysol in J1, Kamekawa has called Nagasaki his home since 2019. Still a solid player, he’s pursuing a return to J1 with V-Varen Nagasaki, yet a long-lasting injury prevents him from a regular contributor to the team’s ultimate goal.
Then: FC Tokyo ➜ Now: Hannover 96 (GER)
Sei Muroya in 2016 hardly played for FC Tokyo’s U23 in J3 League, so his nomination for the Olympic Games was slightly surprising. From out of nowhere, Muroya played all three matches of the tournament and then he was given a chance for the Second Stage of J1 by his parent club. Since then, Muroya grew a familiar face in Tokyo, playing 30 J1 matches between 2018 and 2019.
In 2020, despite the pandemic situation, Muroya was scouted by 2. Bundesliga club Hannover 96, where he and Haraguchi were supposed to help the promotion effort of the recently relegated side. Surprisingly, Muroya collected a decent performance, a total of 32 appearances in a foreign, physically challenging league.
Then: Urawa Red Diamonds ➜ Now: VfB Stuttgart (GER)
Five years ago, a young Wataru Endo was just 23 years old and yet he had already six (SIX!) professional seasons under his belt, mostly with Shonan Bellmare. In 2016, he had just moved to Urawa Red Diamonds and he was three months away from gifting Urawa Reds their first trophy after a long time.
Time has been kind on Endo, who was probably the natural heir of Makoto Hasebe’s role after 2018 World Cup. He first moved to Sint-Truiden – the natural Japanese colony in Europe – and one year was enough to catch the eye of VfB Stuttgart, back then playing in the second German division. 18 months later, he’s become a sensation in Bundesliga and even captained the team in some chances.
Oh, and he’s going to be involved again in the Olympics, since he has been called by Moriyasu among the three overaged players.
So this is the first part of the resume.