Tokyo (AFP) – Former Southampton defender Maya Yoshida and Real Madrid youngster Takefusa Kubo were on Tuesday named in an 18-man Japan football squad “aiming for gold” at the Tokyo Olympics.
Japan have only won an Olympic men’s football medal once — bronze at Mexico 1968 — but manager Hajime Moriyasu is confident of glory on home soil when Tokyo 2020 begins next month.
“We’re aiming for the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, and I’ve chosen the players who give us the best chance of doing that at this point in time,” said Moriyasu, who also manages Japan’s senior side.
“I want the players who have been chosen to carry the hopes of the players who haven’t. I want them to give their all for Japan.”
Moriyasu picked Sampdoria defender Yoshida, 32, who has won 107 senior caps and played in two World Cups, to play at his third Olympics as one of three overage players in the Under-24 squad.
Joining Yoshida as senior players are 28-year-old midfielder Wataru Endo of Stuttgart and defender Hiroki Sakai, 31, who has just returned to Urawa Red Diamonds in the J-League after stints in Germany and France.
The trio all joined the Under-24s for a series of recent friendlies and Moriyasu was pleased with their impact.
“They’ve helped to stabilise the team in the games they’ve played,” he said.
“They’ve done it smoothly, as I imagined. But in order to get results at the Olympics, they need to draw even more out of each other.”
Japan’s squad is divided equally between overseas and domestic-based players.
Midfielder Kubo, 20, who is back at Real Madrid after a loan spell at Spanish side Getafe last season, is the star attraction.
But Moriyasu also has high hopes for dashing Kawasaki Frontale winger Kaoru Mitoma.
“Mitoma is a player who can break through defences, a player with special qualities,” Moriyasu said of the 24-year-old.
“I hope he can do it on the Olympic stage and make a contribution to the team.”
Japan are in Group A along with France, Mexico and South Africa.
They start their campaign against South Africa in Tokyo on July 22.
Goalkeepers: Keisuke Osako (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Kosei Tani (Shonan Bellmare)
Defenders: Maya Yoshida (Sampdoria/ITA), Hiroki Sakai (Urawa Reds), Kou Itakura (Groningen/NED), Yuta Nakayama (PEC Zwolle/NED), Reo Hatate (Kawasaki Frontale), Takehiro Tomiyasu (Bologna/ITA), Daiki Hashioka (Sint-Truiden/BEL)
Midfielders: Wataru Endo (Stuttgart/GER), Yuki Soma (Nagoya Grampus), Koji Miyoshi (Antwerp/BEL), Kaoru Mitoma (Kawasaki Frontale), Ritsu Doan (PSV Eindhoven/NED), Ao Tanaka (Kawasaki Frontale), Takefusa Kubo (Real Madrid/ESP)
Forwards: Daizen Maeda (Yokohama F Marinos), Ayase Ueda (Kashima Antlers)
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