It has been a hugely successful period for Japanese football, as their excellent run to the round of 16 at the World Cup caught the imagination. Japan caught the hearts of fans at home and abroad during their campaign, but it was cruelly cut short following defeat against Croatia on penalties. However, the performances of some of their star players throughout the tournament has certainly put them in the shop window for a big move.
Japan’s group stage will go down in folklore, as they picked up victories against Spain and Germany, despite trailing in both after halftime. At that period in both games, the odds of a Japan win with japanbets.com would have been astronomical. But, who are some of the shining lights of Japanese football that we could be seeing more from over the coming years?
There were few brighter stars at the World Cup in the famous blue jersey of Japan than Ritsu Doan. The forward scored the equalizing goal in the win over Germany, before he was subbed on against Spain in the final group stage game to once again score the leveling goal. The winger started his career at Gamboa Osaka in his homeland, where he stayed for three years before joining Dutch side Groningen on loan. He certainly impressed during that loan stint, as he scored nine goals in 29 games before making the permanent switch.
His stay in the Netherlands would continue after signing for Dutch giants PSV in 2019, but his big move would finally come in 2022 as he joined Bundesliga side Freiburg. Doan has already impressed in Germany, as he has scored four in 22 games in all competitions.
One of the brightest new talents that were unearthed at the World Cup for Japan was Kaoru Mitoma. The winger began his career in his native homeland, as he played 50 times for Kawasaki Frontale, scoring 21 goals. His performances caught the attention of Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion, and he signed for the English club in 2021. However, he was sent on loan in his first season for the club, but he enjoyed an excellent stay at Union SG, scoring a hat-trick on his debut.
Game time was easier to come by for Mitoma when he returned to Brighton, and he made his Premier League debut against Newcastle in August 2022. The Japanese winger’s first goal for the Seagulls would come just a few months later in a 3-2 win against Wolves. His excellent form continued after the World Cup, as he scored in Brighton’s 4-2 defeat against Arsenal. It looks as though he has an exceptionally bright future at the AMEX Stadium.
Takefusa Kubo has long been seen as the shining light for the future of Japanese football, with the winger drawing comparisons to Lionel Messi after bursting onto the scene with FC Tokyo. After playing 19 games for the club between 2016 and 2019, he was signed by Real Madrid on a five-year deal.
His initial promise was clear for all to see, as he had previously spent a youth spell at La Liga giants Barcelona. However, he was never given his chance at Real, as he was loaned out to Villarreal, Mallorca, and Getafe, before permanently moving to Real Sociedad in the summer of 2022. It does seem as though his career is back on track now, and he has impressed for the high-flying Spanish club throughout this season, scoring twice in 14 league games.
While it was likely Japan’s forward players that caught the imagination most at the World Cup, one of their star performers was defender Ko Itakura. The 25-year-old was voted in the Group Stage Team of the Tournament by media outlets in Germany and Italy and gained a World Cup assist for his part in Japan’s winner against Germany in the group stage. Itakura started his professional career at Kawasaki Frontale, but he was snapped up by Manchester City in 2019 after making just seven appearances for the Japanese club.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t given a chance to shine at City, and was loaned out to Groningen and Schalke between 2019 and 2022. However, after impressing at Schalke in Germany, he was finally given a new permanent home in Germany, as Borussia Monchengladbach signed the central defender for £5 million. Many experts have already teased that Itakura could be a player to watch for the remainder of the season, as a big summer transfer could be on the horizon.
Japan's team included some great World Cup players, and they had a big impact on the international scene. In addition to helping Japanese football achieve success, these players are encouraging the next generation of Japanese athletes to pursue their goals and succeed in the game.