Japan has long been a nation that is full of passionate football fans. Supporters in the country stay up until the early hours of the morning watching their favorite teams, with many elite clubs opting to tap into this market and embark on summer tours to get closer to where some of their most passionate fans are located.
However, the talent pool in the country is also growing, with more stars opting to move to Europe and try and make it big with some of the biggest clubs on the planet. Keita Maruyama has identified some of the brightest Japanese stars that are worth tracking ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Who Is Keita Maruyama?
Keita Maruyama is the football writer at Japanese online iGaming site CasinosNavi. His passion for the game knows no limits, but he regularly keeps an eye out for some of the best Japanese talents that are making moves across Europe.
He has a special relationship with the betting industry, and believes it’s only a matter of time before online betting in Japan is as popular as it is across the rest of the world. He sees the performances of the players having a direct impact on the Japanese national team’s chances over the coming years, as they aim to excel both in Asia and in front of the world at the World Cup.
There have been very few more exciting Japanese players to leave Asia over the past 20 years than 21-year-old Takefusa Kubo. The forward excelled during his time in the J1 League with FC Tokyo, as he scored six goals across 30 league games. Many described him as the Japanese Lionel Messi, which means there was little surprise that Barcelona looked to take a chance on him back in 2011. However, his return to Tokyo meant that he needed to search for a next club, and it was only a matter of time before Spanish giants Real Madrid took a chance on the talented winger.
Kubo’s time at Madrid hasn’t exactly gone as many would have hoped, as he is yet to make a start for the Spanish giants. However, he has impressed across loan spells in La Liga with Mallorca, Villarreal, and Getafe. Last season, he enjoyed a second loan spell with Mallorca, as he scored twice in 31 games in all competitions. His stay at Real was brought to an end this summer, and he could be about to light up La Liga with Real Sociedad after signing for the club on a permanent deal.
A young star that will be well worth keeping an eye on for the next few years looks set to be Sota Kitano. The midfielder is still only 17-years-old, but he has been progressing excellently during his spell with the Cerezo Osaka first team. Rumors have already been rife that a number of European teams are monitoring his form in Japan, and a big transfer could soon be on the horizon if his development continues at the rate that it is.
Kitano only joined up with the Osaka first team earlier this year, but he has played 16 times and scored three goals in all competitions. His form is also excelling at international level, as he has played for Japan at U15, U16, and U19 level. Kitano managed to immediately make the difference on his U19 debut, as he scored on his first start for the national youth team. The future certainly looks bright for the 17-year-old, and he could be a player that we see a lot more of in Europe over the coming years.
The final player that fans should be watching out for this year is Yuta Nakayama. The central defender has been playing in Europe for a number of years now, and he has already drawn comparisons to Maya Yoshida. Nakayama played over 80 times in Japan for Kashiwa Reysol, before moving to the Netherlands in 2019 to sign for PEC Zwolle. His time in the Dutch top-flight saw his reputation in the international game reach new heights, as he earned his spot in the starting eleven for both club and country.
Nakayama was a very impressive player in his final season in the Dutch league, as he played 32 times. However, following their relegation, he moved on to a new challenge, as he signed for Championship side Huddersfield Town in 2022. He looks set to be an important member of the team, as the Terries look to get back into the Premier League this season.