The Bundesliga is home to Japan’s best. Will they end Germany’s WC?


Japan There have been two upsets so far during this World Cup. they got up first GermanyThe four-time World Cup winning team suffered a 1-0 humiliating defeat after being beaten 2-1. Costa RicaWhich leaves them in a real quandary when it comes to progressing from Group E. Samurai Blue will have to find a way to score at least one point against it. spain They will have a realistic chance of reaching the round of 16 for the fourth time in their history in their group-stage final on Thursday.

While Japan are going into this game as clear underdogs, expect a further rift in the realm of prospects thanks to a backbone of technical and high-octane players who all earned their money in Germany.

Plays in eight out of 23 outfield players selected by national coach Hajime Moriyasu. German Bundesliga and one in the 2. Bundesliga. “The [Japanese (JFA) and German (DFB) FAs] have been close for several decades, going back to 1960, when Japan trained in Germany in preparation for the Olympics, and Detmar Kramer was hired by the JFA as a technical advisor,” said Dan Orlovitz, a Tokyo-based reporter. told ESPN.

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Yasuhiko Okudera becomes first Japanese to feature in Bundesliga FC Cologne In 1977, however, his decision to move to West Germany was disapproved of at home. “He was branded as a ‘traitor to the nation’,” explains Tatsuro Suzuki, a Berlin-based translator and coach. “At that time it was forbidden to go abroad.” This changed a few years later, as a wave of Japanese players led by Shinji Kagawa and Makoto Hasebe Came to the Bundesliga in 2010.

“I think Bundesliga clubs see Japanese players as dedicated hard workers who play for the team and don’t have egos, which fits the dynamic there,” says Orlovitz.

While German teams are well-connected in Japan nowadays and have been able to get hold of emerging talent, not every Japanese player to appear in the Bundesliga comes directly from Japan. The group of eight in the World Cup squad can be divided into three parts: to itakura, takuma asano, ritsu don And wataru endo He was signed by clubs in England, Belgium or the Netherlands, but either could not establish himself there and had to move elsewhere, or showed his talent and was subsequently signed by German clubs.

daiichi kamada, Hiroki Ito And come on tanaka went straight from Japan to Germany, while Maya Yoshida played eight years in Premier League and three in serie a before signing a contract with Schalke 04 this summer.

Kamada might be the biggest name in Japanese football at the moment, having been part of Eintracht FrankfurtEuropa League-winning campaign in 2021-22. In the months before the World Cup, Kamada impressed with his attacking instincts and finishing skills, scoring 12 goals in 22 appearances. Naturally, he has been linked with a number of potential clubs if he chooses to leave the Bundesliga side, although Frankfurt will want to keep the midfielder as they know how much they can rely on him to perform consistently.

What Kamada is to Japan’s attacking midfield, Endo is to their defensive midfield. since 29 years old VfB Stuttgart Widely regarded as one of the more dominant number 6s in the Bundesliga, combining smart positional play and relentless defensive intensity. In a sense, Ando is Hasebe’s successor, who at age 38 has moved into an elder-politician-like role in Frankfurt. In his heyday, Hasebe was a field general, similar to Endo’s identity today.

While Kamada and Endo have realized more of their potential in recent years, other Japanese players have yet to reach their prime. An example is Itakura.

The defender-midfielder hybrid was spotted by Manchester City in 2018, but did not play a minute for the Sky Blues after signing with them. Instead, he went on loan to Groningen and later to Schalke, where he helped the club gain promotion to the Bundesliga. Since Schalke were not able to pay the required fee for a permanent transfer, borussia monchengladbach stepped in and picked up Itakura to replace the Germany international matthias ginter, Itakura has the tactical intelligence to play in the back line and control the strikers through positional play and timing. It took him some time to settle after leaving Japan, but the Bundesliga seems like the perfect fit for the 25-year-old.

The same can be said for Doan, who made some decent appearances for Groningen over two seasons in the Eredivisie but really had his aging moment when he was on loan at Arminia Bielefeld in 2020-21. The agile winger boosted his stock substantially SC Freiburg were determined to sign with PSV Eindhoven permanently after one year.

“Germany is the country in Europe where it is generally easier to mix with the Japanese,” says Suzuki. “Stable structures, relatively safe, lots of Japanese subsidiaries. Many people in Germany understand English. Compared to 20 years ago, you can find authentic Japanese food much easier. Restaurants and markets from Asia are popping up all over the country are, and you are able to eat like you do in Japan. For many Japanese people, food plays an important role in terms of their standard of living.”

While the billion-dollar business that is football demands players to simply act, these are the softer factors that can affect the performance of professional footballers just as much as everyone else. It is no coincidence that the Netherlands and Belgium, Germany’s two neighboring countries, also served as promising destinations.

The Bundesliga benefits from the presence of Japanese players, as they contribute to the attractiveness of the league with their playing style while also opening doors to the East Asian market. In return, the players benefit from the success they have had at clubs with huge followings, such as Schalke, Stuttgart and Frankfurt. National coach Moriyasu spoke about the fact that the Bundesliga fueled his team after Japan defeated Germany on the first day of the match, claiming: “They are fighting in these very strong tough leagues. So in that context, if those leagues are contributing to the development of our Japanese players, I respect that and I’m very grateful for that.”

“Like I said, the Germans have a deep respect for sport,” says Orlovitz. “And I think everyone knows that the Bundesliga is not just a stepping stone for Japanese players, but an elite league of its own, and players like Kamada, Doon etc. have really been able to prove their worth.”

These players will once again be the center of attention for the nation of 125 million when Japan take on Spain and Germany take on Costa Rica in a dramatic Group E final match. In a cruel twist of fate, Japan could eliminate Germany from the tournament, although the reverse could also happen if Germany’s Bundesliga stars also know their opponents.

Additional reporting from ESPN’s Gabriel Tan.

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