Next Gen J.League stars reach AFC U23 Asian Cup final, seal Japan's place at Olympics

Next Gen J.League stars reach AFC U23 Asian Cup final, seal Japan's place at Olympics

Japan have qualified for the men’s football competition at this summer’s Paris Olympics after defeating Iraq, 2-0, in the semi-finals of the 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup.

Japan made it out of Group B at the tournament by beating China and United Arab Emirates, before falling to South Korea. That earned them second place in the group, which matched them up against host Qatar in the quarter-finals, where Kashiwa Reysol’s Mao Hosoya and Kotaro Uchino scored in extra time to win, 4-2.

That set Japan up for their semi-final clash with Iraq, with the winner qualifying for Paris 2024.

Hosoya put the Samurai Blue in front after 28 minutes when he ran in behind the defense, took down a long ball with a gorgeous touch, spun and finished beautifully for a tremendous goal.

Ryotaro Araki, the FC Tokyo star who is tied for fourth in J1 with five goals this season, then doubled the Japan lead before halftime. Yokohama F·Marinos product Joel Chima Fujita played him in with a phenomenal pass and Araki slotted the ball home to send Japan onto the 2-0 win that would seal their spot at the Games.

The Japan team at the Asian Cup is made up of 17 players who currently play in the Meiji Yasuda J.League, along with several others who were with domestic clubs before moving to Europe. Those #NextGenJLEAGUE stars have been phenomenal at the tournament, but before they turn their attention to this summer’s Olympics, they have the U23 Asian Cup crown to win.

The final of the tournament will be played late Friday night, with Japan taking on Uzbekistan for the continental crown.