The Samurai Blue are set to put the Japan crest over their hearts and play for their country again as the journey to the 2023 Asian Cup and 2026 FIFA World Cup begins with friendlies against Uruguay and Colombia.
Japan are fresh off of their inspiring 2022 World Cup, which saw them defeat former champions Spain and Germany en route to topping the group and making the knockout stages. Now, as they gather for the first time since their star turn in Qatar, it’s about looking forward to the competitions to come.
Getting back up to speed right away will be crucial for the Samurai Blue, who only have these two friendlies before joining up again in the summer. Uruguay and Colombia are ideal opponents for a team that needs to grow quickly.
La Celeste bring stars like Federico Valverde and Matias Vecino, presenting Japan a stout midfield to match up against, while Los Cafeteros have players with top level experience like James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, which will force the Samurai Blue to match their quality in key moments.
Hajime Moriyasu has brought in a very strong squad to match those two challenging opponents, headlined by their World Cup stars. Ko Itakura and Hiroki Ito will be back in defense, Wataru Endo and Daichi Kamada will man the midfield, and Takuma Asano will lead the line up front.
There are changes worth keeping an eye on, particularly in goal. Shuichi Gonda has not made the team, opening the door for someone new to take over the starting spot. Daniel Schmidt, a Vegalta Sendai product currently with Sint-Truiden in Belgium, may have the upper hand, but Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Keisuke Osako is in terrific form and Gamba Osaka’s Kosei Tani is supremely talented as well.
There are also several young players who have earned their first Samurai Blue call ups.
Yokohama F·Marinos’ 23-year-old Ryotaro Tsunoda has been a standout for the Meiji Yasuda J.League champions, which earned him his first look for Japan. F.C.Tokyo’s 21-year-old Kashif Bangnagande and Gamba Osaka’s 21-year-old Riku Handa will also join Tsunoda on the back line in their first call ups.
It’s a time of change for the Samurai Blue, but still backed by the established stars who made waves at the World Cup. With the Asian Cup so close, Moriyasu is tasked with putting together the new Japan team very quickly, and then kicking on to the 2026 World Cup right from there. It’s a big task, but Moriyasu has proven he can do amazing things in charge of this Samurai Blue side filled with J.League stars present and past.
It all begins on March 24 when Japan take on Uruguay at Japan National Stadium in Tokyo, then it continues four days later in Osaka when they square off against Colombia at Yodoko Sakura Stadium.