The March international window was a big one for the Japan men’s national football team. Alongside a challenging friendly, Samurai Blue returned to FIFA World Cup qualifying competition, continuing their quest for a spot at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
As is always the case, the roster was full of MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE players. 14 of the 23 players on the roster hailed from the domestic league, with nine J1 LEAGUE clubs represented.
In the friendly, a contest with South Korea in Kanagawa, it was Kawasaki Frontale’s Miki Yamane who got things going with the opening goal. Daichi Kamada, who played at Sagan Tosu before joining Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt, scored the second goal and the third goal was scored by Wataru Endo, who came through the Shonan Bellmare academy and also played for Urawa Reds.
The Samurai Blue, powered by J.LEAGUE products, cruised to a 3-0 victory.
Japan followed that up with their World Cup qualifying return. They played Mongolia in a second round, Group F contest that they dominated right from the start.
The Samurai Blue led 3-0 by the half-hour mark and then turned it on, eventually winning 14-0. Nagoya Grampus’ Sho Inagaki and Vissel Kobe’s Kyogo Furuhashi each scored in the match, while former Kashima Antlers star Yuya Osako notched a hat trick as Japan improved to a perfect 15 points from five matches in Group F.
In both matches, Shimizu S-Pulse’s Shuichi Gonda handled the duties in goal. The goalkeeper has now started four matches for the Samurai Blue since international football restarted and has kept clean sheets in each one.
While the senior team was taking care of business, so was the Japan U-24 team. That is the side that will represent the country at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and, like the senior team, it is full of J.LEAGUE players.
The U-24 team played a pair of friendlies against a vaunted Argentina side and, after losing the first match 1-0, bounced back with an emphatic 3-0 win in Fukuoka. Sagan Tosu’s Daichi Hayashi scored the first goal, then captain Ko Itakura headed home twice to wrap up the win. Itakura is a Kawasaki Frontale academy product who played for the club and at Vegalta Sendai on loan before signing for Manchester City in 2019 and shining for Groningen in the Netherlands on loan since.
The J1 LEAGUE may have taken a week off for the international break, but its players didn’t. Those who got called up just went on to star for the Samurai Blue, at the senior level and U-24 level, as they get ready to shine at the upcoming World Cup and Olympics.