Japan Asian Players in Europe

Portimonense manager: Shoya Nakajima could make Japan’s World Cup squad

Portimonense manager Vitor Oliveira has suggested that striker Shoya Nakajima could be bound for Russia following the player’s first-ever selection to Japan’s senior squad.

The 23-year-old earned a call-up by Samurai Blue head coach Vahid Halilhodzic for the team’s upcoming friendlies against Mali and Ukraine, which will take place in Belgium on March 23 and 27 respectively.

“[Nakajima] has had a brilliant season and shown a lot of quality; he’s improved a lot since he arrived here,” Oliveira told Portuguese media according to ZeroZero. “He may be included in the 23 players called up for the World Cup.”

Nakajima has been a revelation in 22 appearances for the Primeira Liga side since arriving last summer on loan from FC Tokyo, scoring nine goals and recording six assists and reportedly earning interest from Portuguese titans Benefica. He previously represented Japan at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics, scoring one goal at each tournament.

“It’s been my dream to play in a World cup since I was a child,” Nakajima told Portugal’s Record. “My characteristics fit Portuguese football, and at Portimonense I can show my capabilities and improve some of my weaknesses such as defensive tasks.”

Halilhodzic touched on Nakajima’s abilities in a Thursday press conference at the Japan Football Association’s headquarters in downtown Tokyo, touting his goalscoring abilities over those of Eibar attacker Takashi Inui who was omitted from the squad.

“He’s played in a lot of matches and is earning goals and assists,” the French-Bosnian coach said. “As a dribbler he’s quick-witted and explosive. Defensively he’s not at the level I want from our national team players, but I want to see how much he can improve during this camp.”