Archive for April 27th, 2022


Sean’s Samurai Selection

If national teams could only include players from domestic clubs, what would the Samurai Blue look like at the World Cup? I came up with a 23-man squad I reckon could do the J.League proud in Qatar this November… (日本語版)

There is increasing talk about the prominence of overseas-based players in the Japan national team, and it is surely only a matter of time before the full squad at a World Cup finals is comprised of players plying their trade in Europe. 

The recent announcement that the 2022 EAFF E-1 Football Championship will now be held in Japan after China pulled out as hosts got me thinking, however, and I wondered how a Samurai Blue squad comprised only of domestic players would fare at the global showpiece.

While of course a purely hypothetical exercise, I realised there is still a wealth of talent taking to J.League pitches every week – both gifted up-and-comers and seasoned old pros – and I managed to put together a 23 I think could give a decent account of themselves in Qatar. (Players already likely to be in Hajime Moriyasu’s plans were not considered for ‘Sean’s Samurai Selection’.)  

Goalkeepers: Masaaki Murakami (Avispa Fukuoka), Takanori Sugeno (Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo), Zion Suzuki (Urawa Reds)

I think this would provide a decent mixture between the posts. Murakami perhaps doesn’t get the praise he deserves for Avispa, and not only played a huge part in getting them promoted in 2020 but has also excelled over the past season-and-a-third in J1. Sugeno and Suzuki would provide more than capable deputies at differing ends of the experience spectrum, with the former a terrific option to have in the squad who would keep everyone focused and the latter a prodigious talent who would benefit hugely from the experience and wouldn’t let anyone down if called upon. 

Defenders: Shinnosuke Hatanaka (Yokohama F. Marinos), Shogo Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale), Ryuho Kikuchi (Vissel Kobe), Taiyo Koga (Kashima Reysol), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Tomoki Iwata (Yokohama F. Marinos)

I would opt for a three-man defence, at the heart of which I would place the unshakeable Taniguchi. Hatanaka is a similarly composed character who I think could be relied upon alongside the Kawasaki Frontale captain, with Kikuchi bringing some passion and aggression to the back line. Morishige would be my choice to fill in for Taniguchi in the event of an injury or suspension, while Koga and Iwata are flexible options that could slot comfortably into the back three or even fulfil roles across the midfield if needed.

Midfielders: Joel Chima Fujita (Yokohama F. Marinos), Sho Inagaki (Nagoya Grampus), Kuryu Matsuki (FC Tokyo), Hiroyuki Mae (Avispa Fukuoka), Takuro Kaneko (Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo), Ryosuke Yamanaka (Cerezo Osaka), Kosuke Onose (Gamba Osaka), Tsukasa Morishima (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Akihiro Ienaga (Kawasaki Frontale), Yusuke Matsuo (Urawa Reds)

Here again I have tried to blend experience with youthful vim and vigour, and at the base of midfield I would partner the energetic duo of Inagaki and Fujita. Both are box-to-box players with terrific engines, capable of breaking up opponents’ attacks, moving the ball intelligently, and threatening themselves with shots on goal. Out wide I’d start Kaneko and Yamanaka, who have the stamina to work up and down their flanks and also cause serious problems in the final third – either by whipping crosses into the area (Yamanaka) or cutting in and taking shots themselves (Kaneko).

In the support striker role, meanwhile, I’d have the evergreen Ienaga – a sumptuous player for whom football just appears too easy, and who continues to improve with age – alongside the live-wire Matsuo, who is constantly looking to get in behind with his ceaseless running and scheming. In reserve, Mae and Matsuki would provide me with excellent alternatives in the centre of the park – able to affect the game in both directions – Onose would provide cover for either of my wing-backs, and Morishima would be on standby to add a slightly different creative streak in place of my attacking midfielders. 

Strikers: Yuma Suzuki (Kashima Antlers), Takuma Nishimura (Yokohama F. Marinos), Mao Hosoya (Kashiwa Reysol), Koki Ogawa (Yokohama FC)

At the business end of the things you absolutely can’t go wrong with Suzuki. HIs abrasiveness would undoubtedly cause opposition centre-backs headaches for the full 90 minutes, but to characterise him as no more than an irritant is to grossly misrepresent an intelligent, skilful, and lethal centre-forward who would be leading my line for sure.

Nishimura would give the team another smooth operator up front – not to mention an aerial threat – while Hosoya has been excellent for Reysol so far this season and certainly has the ability to serve as our joker in the pack. Finally, Ogawa has been rejuvenated since moving to Yokohama FC from Jubilo Iwata ahead of the 2022 campaign. Injuries and loss of form cruelly robbed the player expected to carry the goalscoring burden for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics of that opportunity, but he is bursting with confidence right now and looks like he believes everything he hits will end up in the back of the net. Most of the time he is right, and therefore he’d be on the plane too.

My Starting XI (3-4-2-1)

GK: Masaaki Murakami (Avispa Fukuoka)

DF: Shinnosuke Hatanaka, Shogo Taniguchi, Ryuho Kikuchi

MF: Takuro Kaneko, Joel Chima Fujita, Sho Inagaki, Ryosuke Yamanaka

AM: Akihiro Ienaga, Yusuke Matsuo

FW: Yuma Suzuki

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April 2022