Samurai Blue Asian Cup spotlight: Daiya Maekawa

Samurai Blue Asian Cup spotlight: Daiya Maekawa

The Japan national team for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup is entirely made up of J.League products, but five of the squad still play in the domestic top flight.

One of them is Vissel Kobe goalkeeper Daiya Maekawa, who is coming off the best season of his career, having helped his club win their first-ever Meiji Yasuda J1 League title. He was excellent in goal, repeatedly turning away some of the country’s best attackers as Vissel rode one of the league’s best defenses to their historic crown.

Maekawa was more than just a shot stopper for Vissel. He was an assured leader in the back, helping organize the outstanding defense, and he proved himself to be an adept passer too. His distribution played a big role in several goals and allowed his team to control possession and tempo.

Maekawa’s outstanding season earned him his first national team cap in a November FIFA World Cup qualifier against Myanmar, putting the 29-year-old goalkeeper squarely in the frame for Samurai Blue minutes going forward. It was a major breakthrough for a player who never played for Japan’s youth teams and was a late bloomer at Vissel.

Now, Maekawa is beginning 2024 with another big step - the Asian Cup. Named to the roster by Hajime Moriyasu, he is going to pull on the Samurai Blue shirt as Japan chase a record fifth continental crown.

Maekawa may not have very much international experience - no goalkeeper in the squad does, with Zion Suzuki’s four caps leading the way - but his club experience both in the J.League and in AFC Champions League play separates him from the rest of the Samurai Blue’s options in goal.

It’s been quite the ride for Maekawa, and it continues with Japan at the Asian Cup.