Japan begins road to 2026 World Cup with squad of J.League stars present and past

Japan begins road to 2026 World Cup with squad of J.League stars present and past

Japan had a spectacular 2022 FIFA World Cup, beating former champions Spain and Germany en route to winning their group and making the knockout stages in consecutive tournaments for the first time ever.

Now, the Samurai Blue turn to the 2023 Asian Cup and the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and their journey there begins this month with Kirin Challenge Cup matches against Uruguay and Colombia.

Hajime Moriyasu has chosen his squad for those contests and, as was the case at the World Cup, it is made up entirely of players currently at Meiji Yasuda J.League clubs or began their professional careers in the domestic league.

Gamba Osaka’s Kosei Tani and Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Keisuke Osako have been called up, putting the 22-year-old and 23-year-old, respectively, in the mix to be the next generation of Samurai Blue goalkeepers.

Three young J.League defenders have been handed their first-ever senior team call-ups. Yokohama F·Marinos’ 23-year-old Ryotaro Tsunoda has played well for the J1 champions, earning his place on the Japan team for the first time. F.C.Tokyo’s 21-year-old Kashif Bangnagande and Gamba Osaka’s 21-year-old Riku Handa have also been given their first call-ups.

Shonan Bellmare’s Shuto Machino is an established member of the next generation, with the 23-year-old having been on the World Cup team and he’s now part of the start to the new cycle. Marinos’ Takuma Nishimura joins Machino in the Samurai Blue frontline.

In addition to those current J.League stars, Avispa Fukuoka product and current Arsenal man Takehiro Tomiyasu is part of the group. A pair of players who started at Kawasaki Frontale, Ko Itakura, now at Borussia Monchengladbach, and Hidemasa Morita, a Sporting CP man, are also part of the group expected to lead Japan through the next cycle.

The Samurai Blue will host Uruguay at Japan National Stadium in Tokyo on March 24, then take on Colombia four days later at Yosoko Sakura Stadium in Osaka.

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