Japan are on the verge of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and could clinch their spot in Qatar this week. The Samurai Blue square off against Australia and Vietnam in the final two matches of the third round of qualifying and do so with a team full of Meiji Yasuda J.League stars present and past in search of that all-important World Cup place.
Kawasaki Frontale’s Shogo Taniguchi and Miki Yamane take their regular places in the squad along the back line, joined by fellow defenders Yuto Nagatomo from F.C.Tokyo, Shinnosuke Nakatani from Nagoya Grampus and Sho Sasaki from Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Shimizu S-Pulse’s Shuichi Gonda and Shonan Bellmare’s Kosei Tani are goalkeepers, while Ayase Ueda has been rewarded for his red hot start for Kashima Antlers with a look for the national team up top.
In addition to the terrific current J.League stars, the rest of the team is filled out by players who previously played for J.League clubs or their academies before moving to Europe. That includes Reo Hatate, a J1 champion at Frontale before joining Celtic in Scotland. Samurai Blue captain Maya Yoshida currently shines for Sampdoria in Italy’s Serie A, but came up in the Nagoya academy and impressed in the first team before moving abroad.
Japan currently sit second in Group B of AFC World Cup qualifying. The top two places automatically qualify for Qatar and they hold a three-point advantage on third place Australia. If they beat the Socceroos on Thursday, they will clinch their spot at the World Cup. A draw or loss will send them to next week’s clash with Vietnam with their qualification hopes on the line.