Japan’s U-24 team is set for Tokyo 2020 and it’s an all-J.League affair. Of the 22 players in the squad, 13 play in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE, while the other nine who play for European clubs all came through J.League academies and made their professional debuts in Japan.
The likes of Daizen Maeda and Kaoru Mitoma will lead the squad in attack after impressive J.League campaigns. Maeda ranks in the top five of the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE goalscoring chart this season, having already scored 10 for Yokohama F·Marinos, while Mitoma’s sterling play for Kawasaki Frontale has grabbed headlines and attention from abroad.
While Tokyo 2020 is a U-24 tournament, teams are allowed to call in three overage players and Japan have opted for stability and experience from their trio. Urawa Reds’ Hiroki Sakai is likely to take the right back spot, while Maya Yoshida, who came up with Nagoya Grampus and now plays at Sampdoria, will bring over 100 caps of experience from the senior Samurai Blue to center back. Wataru Endo, who starred for Shonan Bellmare and Urawa Red Diamonds before moving to Europe and becoming a standout for VfB Stuttgart, will hold down the midfield.
Japan were dealt a difficult draw for the Tokyo 2020 Games, after being placed with France, Mexico and South Africa in Group A, but they will have a home-field advantage. Even with no fans in attendance due to the pandemic, the team will play all of their group-stage matches in J.League stadia, enjoying a familiar setting for the action.
The top two teams from each group will advance to the quarterfinals. From there, it is only three wins to a gold medal and immortality for this group of Japanese footballers, all of whom have a connection to J.League.