Japan set for pair of World Cup qualifiers with squad of J.League stars present and past

Japan set for pair of World Cup qualifiers with squad of J.League stars present and past

Japan jump back into 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying this week and once again manager Hajime Moriyasu has chosen a squad made up entirely of players who play in the Meiji Yasuda J.League or began their careers in the domestic competition.

The Samurai Blue will play in Myanmar on June 6 before taking on Syria five days later at Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s brand new Edion Peace Wing Stadium Hiroshima to wrap up the second round of qualifying. Japan have already clinched a top-two finish in Group B, guaranteeing a place in the third round, so these contests carry no qualifying implications but plenty of pride.

Moriyasu has opted for a crop of goalkeepers made up exclusively of current J.League players; Sanfrecce’s Keisuke Osako may have a leg up in winning the starting job, but he’ll be pushed by Daiya Maekawa and Kosei Tani. Maekawa led Vissel Kobe to the J1 title a year ago, while Tani has been phenomenal in leading FC Machida Zelvia to the top of the table this season.

FC Tokyo’s Yuto Nagatomo brings an astonishing 147 caps to the team as the 37-year-old defender continues to make himself indispensable to the national team. On the flip side is Sanfrecce’s Takumu Kawamura, who has just one friendly appearance to his name and hopes to make his competitive debut in the midfield.

The rest of the Japan team is made up of players who got their professional starts in the J.League, led by captain Wataru Endo. Formerly an Urawa Reds and Shonan Bellmare star, Endo has been a standout player in Europe for years and is now a fixture in the Liverpool midfield when not wearing the armband for his country.

Former FC Tokyo starlet Takefusa Kubo is back in the team, as is Cerezo Osaka product Takumi Minamino. Ayase Ueda, who started at Kashima Antlers before moving abroad, is coming off a cup winning season at Feyenoord too.

They will be expected to lead an attack that is still looking for top notch international goal scoring, which has opened the door for Yuito Suzuki. The 22-year-old is getting his first look with the senior team after starring at Shimizu S-Pulse and putting together an 11-goal season for Danish club Brøndby this past season.