Fourteen J.League players made the most recent Japan squad, as the Samurai Blue stepped up their preparations for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia.
More than half of Vahid Halilhodzic’s 26 call-ups for the friendlies against Mali and Ukraine are currently playing their trade in the Meiji Yasuda Seimei J1 League, eight of whom started at least one match in Belgium.
Two others were given minutes off the bench too, as Japan drew 1-1 with 2016 African Nations Championship runners-up Mali on 23 March and then fell to a narrow 2-1 loss against Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraine four days later.
Tomoya Ugajin of Urawa Reds made his national team debut in the first match, lining up alongside clubmate Tomoaki Makino, Kashiwa Reysol goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura, Gen Shoji of Kashima Antlers, and Kawasaki Frontale’s Ryota Oshima, while Cerezo Osaka’s Hotaru Yamaguchi, Kashima’s Kento Misao, and Kawasaki’s Yu Kobayashi all made substitute appearances.
Then, on 27 March, Naomichi Ueda of Kashima, Yamaguchi, and his Cerezo teammate Kenyu Sugimoto joined Makino in the starting eleven, with Misao and Kobayashi coming on again in the second half.
The full list of J.League call-ups was as follows:
Goalkeepers: Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol)
Defenders: Wataru Endo, Tomoya Ugajin, Tomoaki Makino (all Urawa Reds), Shintaro Kurumaya (Kawasaki Frontale), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Naomichi Ueda, Gen Shoji (both Kashima Antlers)
Midfielders: Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale), Kento Misao (Kashima Antlers)
Forwards: Kenyu Sugimoto (Cerezo Osaka), Yu Kobayashi (Kawasaki Frontale)