Japan’s upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Saudi Arabia and Australia will have a strong J.LEAGUE flavor. As is usually the case for the Samurai Blue, the team is made up of several players who currently play in the domestic league, and many more who got their start in it before moving abroad.

The crop of current MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE players are led by on-loan Shimizu S-Pulse goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda, who has staked his claim as the national team’s starter between the sticks. He also has Kosei Tani, on loan at Shonan Bellmare from Gamba Osaka, backing him up. Vissel Kobe’s Yuya Osako remains indispensable for the Samurai Blue and has more international goals than anyone else on this roster, while Urawa Reds’ Hiroki Sakai and F.C.Tokyo’s Yuto Nagatomo are also in the squad.

Kyogo Furuhashi, Ado Onaiwu, Ao Tanaka and Daiki Hashioka make up a fearsome group of players who started the 2021 campaign in the J.LEAGUE before transferring to European clubs in the summer. Furuhashi led the league in goals for Vissel Kobe before his move to Celtic F.C., while Onaiwu was also one of the top scorers at Yokohama F·Marinos before joining Toulouse F.C.

Other stars like Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino and captain Maya Yoshida got their professional starts in the J.LEAGUE.

Japan’s first 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying window did not go according to plan, with a loss to Oman kicking things off. They followed up with a win over China, but with three points from two matches, they find themselves in fourth place in Group B. The top two teams in the group will qualify for the World Cup, with third place going to a playoff. Australia and Saudi Arabia currently hold the top two spots in the group, making the two matches this window especially important.