Japan kick off 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign with team of J.League stars present and past

Japan kick off 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign with team of J.League stars present and past

Japan are set to begin their 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign and, as is always the case, Hajime Moriyasu has chosen a team made up exclusively of players who are either playing in the Meiji Yasuda J.League or began their career in the domestic competition.

The November international window marks the beginning of the second round of AFC World Cup qualifying, which is the stage the continent’s top teams enter. The Samurai Blue have been drawn into Group B alongside Syria, North Korea and Myanmar. They will play each team home and away, with the top two teams advancing to the third round.

Moriyasu has called in five players currently playing in Japan, none of whom have ever played in a qualifier before. Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Keisuke Osako appears to be leading the fight to be the Japan starting goalkeeper, making this a big window for the Viola backstop. He’s joined by Daiya Maekawa, who is having the best season of his career as he backstops J1 league leaders Vissel Kobe.

Kashiwa Reysol starlet Mao Hosoya recently earned his first Japan cap and the 22-year-old is back in the squad for this window. Cerezo Osaka defender Seiya Maikuma also recently got his first looks for the Samurai Blue and is in the team once more. Kaishu Sano will be hoping to make his first appearance as the 22-year-old Kashima Antlers midfielder has been tapped by Moriyasu as well.

Wataru Endo, a Shonan Bellmare academy product now playing at Liverpool, is back in the team and expected to take the armband. Former Kawasaki Frontale man and current Premier League star at Brighton and Hove Albion Kaoru Mitoma is also in the team, as well as Takefusa Kubo, who shined at F.C.Tokyo before taking Spain by storm.

Japan enter the window in phenomenal form, having won six in a row and beaten Germany, Turkey, Peru, Canada, Tunisia and El Salvador by a combined score of 24-5.

The Samurai Blue will host Myanmar on November 16 at Gamba Osaka’s Panasonic Stadium Suita before heading to Saudi Arabia, where they will play Syria on November 21.

This round of World Cup qualifying doubles as qualifying for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup, too, with the top two teams in each group earning automatic qualification to the continental championship. There’s a ton on the line for Moriyasu and Co. and, fortunately, they are playing at their very best. It’s full steam ahead for the Samurai Blue.