Samurai Blue Asian Cup spotlight: Kaishu Sano

Samurai Blue Asian Cup spotlight: Kaishu Sano

The J.League is the developmental hub of Japanese football, as one look at the Samurai Blue’s AFC Asian Cup squad makes clear. All 26 players began their professional careers in the domestic league and five still play their club ball on home soil.

One of them, who will slot right into the midfield, is Kashima Antlers’ 23-year-old star Kaishu Sano.

Sano has been on a rapid rise for Japan, making his senior team debut in a November FIFA World Cup qualifier against Myanmar. Now, he's being thrust right into the Asian Cup squad - and it’s not hard to see why manager Hajime Moriyasu wants him in the team.

Sano is a very tough midfielder with terrific instincts, allowing him to play highly competitive matches deep in the midfield from a very young age. Add in some passing range and Sano is a prototypical man in the middle that can help keep shape and control.

Sano went to FC Machida Zelvia straight out of high school and within a year of graduation was a fixture in a team with big ambitions. After four terrific campaigns in the Meiji Yasuda J2 League, Sano made the leap to the top flight by signing with Kashima prior to last season and he didn’t skip a beat, immediately finding himself a home in the midfield of the eight-time J1 champions.

Once Sano put in an excellent top flight season at just 22 years old, it was impossible to ignore the budding midfield maestro’s ability to play at any level and Moriyasu gave him a call. A good showing in World Cup qualifying later and Sano is beginning his 2024 at the Asian Cup.

Sano has already made himself indispensable to the most historically successful club in Japan, and now he heads to Qatar hoping to do the same for the most decorated national team in Asia's continental championship. It’s been quite a ride for Sano, and it’s only just getting started.