Although Japan has never been a major force in world football, they are known for playing the game very passionately. At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Japan national team almost knocked out Belgium, one of the favourites for the tournament. However, the Belgians stages a remarkable three goal comeback to break Japanese hearts. Will Japan ever have a squad of players who can consistently compete with the top? We take a look at the 8 best Japanese football players in the world
8 best Japanese football players in the world
Takefusa Kubo — Real Madrid (18)
Takefusa Kubo, dubbed the Japanese Messi, is blessed with a brilliant left foot, great dribbling skills and an eye for goal.
In 2011 Kubo was invited to join the FC Barcelona youth academy as one of the biggest up and coming Japanese football players. After four years, the right-winger went back to Japan in 2015 before joining FC Tokyoa year later. In 2019, the talented youngster was given a second chance in Spain though as he was acquired by Real Madrid, signing a five-year deal.
The now 18-year old was loaned to Mallorca, scoring 3 goals in 24 appearances so far, but will have his eye on breaking into the Real Madrid first team in the long term.
Shoya Nakajima — FC Porto (25)
Though Nakajima primarily lines up as a left-winger, he is equally comfortable playing more centrally in a creative role between the lines of midfield and attack.
In 2017, Nakajima moved abroad for the first time, signing a season-long loan with Portimonense S.C. After scoring 10 goals and as many assists in 32 matches, he signed a permanent deal one year later. In 2019, the left-winger was acquired by Al Duhail for £31.50m but, after a brief spell in Qatar, he returned to Portugal to join Porto FC.
Koki Saito — Yokohama FC (18)
Koki Saito is the only player in this list still playing in the J-League in Japan. After shining with the Japan U-17 side, the then 17-year old debuted for Yokohama FC in a league match against FC Gifu, becoming Yokohama’s youngest ever player. Koki is a quick and lively striker, pleasing the crowds with his fast feet and dribble skills and is likely to join a European team in the coming years.
Takumi Minamino — Liverpool (25)
In January 2020, Takumi Minamino signed with Champions League holders Liverpool for a reported fee of £7.25 million from Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg.
The 25-year old had impressed Liverpool in two Champions League group matches against The Reds. Minamino, who scored in Salzburg’s 4-3 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, said he fulfilled a dream with the transfer.
At Anfield, the left-winger will serve as a backup for Sadio Mané but could be given more opportunities if the Senegal star leaves this summer.
Hiroki Abe — Barcelona B (21)
Abe is best described as a confident but unpredictable, tricky and fast winger. The 21-year old is currently playing for the Barcelona B squad, scoring 4 goals in 20 appearances last season.
On the 24th of May 2019, Abe was called up by Japan to feature in the Copa América played in Brazil, making his debut against Chile. Next season, Abe might want to go on a loan so to get some much needed play in a first team.
Takehiro Tomiyasu — Bologna (21)
After two seasons with Avispa Fukuoka, Tomiyasu joined Belgian club Sint-Truidense in 2018 as his first foreign club. After a great season in the Jupiler Pro League in which he won the club’s Player of the Year award, the right-back joined Serie A club Bologna for £8.10m. Standing at 6 foot 2, the Japan international has a towering presence, great versatility and is comfortable maintaining ball control when the team is in possession.
Hiroki Sakai – Marseille (30)
Last summer, Tottenham Hotspur reportedly wanted Marseille defender Hiroki Sakai but the Japan international stayed put in the south of France.
Sakai has made 61 appearances for Japan and played more the 200 games in the Bundesliga and Ligue 1, making him one of the most successful Japanese football players abroad. The 30-year old was voted Marseille’s player of the season in 2018/19 and has been the first choice for the right-back position at L’OM.
Ritsu Doan — PSV (21)
Ritsu Doan is one of the biggest talents in Japanese football and is considered by many to be the face of a new generation of Japanese football players.
The 21-year old right-winger has already scored 3 goals in 18 appearances for the Japan national team. On the 15th of April 2018, against Roda JC, Doan scored his eighth goal of the season equaling the record total of goals Arjen Robben scored as a teenager for Groningen.
After being acquired for £6.75m, Doan is currently playing for PSV in de Eredivisie as a left-footed player who likes to play on the right. Can he one day become one of the biggest Japanese football players ever?
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