Who was the best Japanese player in the European football season? Many would certainly say Shoya Nakajima, who rose to stardom at Portimonense and has been attracting interest from several big clubs, from Portugal’s big three to the likes of PSG and Dortmund. Others would say it was Ritsu Doan, Groningen’s ace in Holland and the rising star of the next Olympic cycle. Ryota Morioka, who in Belgium had the most fruitful year of his career, led Japanese in Europe in both goals (14) and assists (13) and is also worth mentioning. None of them, however, made Japan’s 23-man World Cup squad announced on Thursday by Akira Nishino.
Nishino opted to call the “big names,” despite many of them not having been in great form for quite some time, rather than rewarding those who have played better. Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki, who deservedly lost their place under former head coach Vahid Halilhodzic, are the “untouchable veterans” who are back for the big stage. It is clear that their absence lead to Halilhodzic’s firing, and it was obvious they would all figure in Nishino’s list.
Nishino’s selections gives the impression he does not follow European football closely, as there is no other logical explanation for the omissions of Doan, Morioka and especially Nakajima. Others’ performances were fairly considered. Takuma Asano and Yosuke Ideguchi, who scored the goals which clinched Japan’s participation in Russia, were cut from the final list after earning almost no playing time for their clubs this season. In addition, his selections from the J.League were good overall. Let’s take a closer look at each position of the squad: