J.League stars past and present join Samurai Blue ahead of World Cup qualifiers

J.League stars past and present join Samurai Blue ahead of World Cup qualifiers

Japan are set for a pair of key 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and manager Hajime Moriyasu has once again chosen a squad made up of entirely J.League players past and present for the Samurai Blue.

Japan will take on North Korea at the Japan National Stadium on March 21 before going to Pyongyang for a match five days later.

Six current J.League players are in the Samurai Blue side, led by the 37-year-old Yuto Nagatomo. The seemingly ageless FC Tokyo man scored an incredible goal last weekend and brings the experience of 142 caps to the squad.

Cerezo Osaka’s Seiya Maikuma is back in the team after playing a key role in Japan’s AFC Asian Cup campaign in January. He is expected to feature for the Samurai Blue at right back in these qualifiers.

A pair of young midfielders made the team, with Kashima Antlers' Kaishu Sano continuing his rapid rise. Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Takumu Kawamura could make his competitive debut against North Korea, having gotten his first cap in a friendly earlier this year.

Rounding out the crop of current J.League players are Sanfrecce’s Keisuke Osako and Vissel Kobe’s Daiya Maekawa. Both are hoping to break through as Japan’s starting goalkeeper, with that spot very much in flux at the moment.

In addition to the players at Japanese clubs, 20 players who made their professional debuts in the J.League before moving abroad are also on the roster.

Liverpool’s Wataru Endo, who played at Shonan Bellmare and Urawa Reds, is back as Japan’s captain. So is the Cerezo product and current AS Monaco star Takumi Minamino. Former Kashima man Ayase Ueda, who led Japan with four goals at the Asian Cup, is also back in the team to lead the front line.

The Samurai Blue currently sit at the top of Group B in the second round of AFC qualifying on six points after wins over Syria and Myanmar. If they beat North Korea twice, they could potentially clinch their spot in the next round of qualifying ahead of their final two second round matches in June.