Soccer

Samurai Blue boss Hajime Moriyasu selects squad of Olympic hopefuls for Copa America

Kyodo

Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu on Friday named a young and inexperienced squad for the upcoming Copa America in Brazil, giving a preview of his potential lineup for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Seventeen-year-old FC Tokyo star Takefusa Kubo headlines a host of newcomers who will be eligible for next year’s Olympic tournament, which will be contested by under-23 teams with a limited number of overage players.

Moriyasu named 17 uncapped players to the squad for the Copa America, which begins on June 14. Japan will face Chile, Uruguay and Ecuador in Group C.

“I’ve selected many players who are in the age group to play at the Tokyo Olympics,” Moriyasu said. “I wanted the young players to grow ahead of next year’s Olympics by competing at this wonderful tournament, the Copa America.”

Leicester City forward Shinji Okazaki and Strasbourg goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima were among a small handful of veterans with World Cup experience named to the squad.

While Japan had initially been expected to send a squad of Olympic hopefuls to Brazil, Moriyasu later said he hoped to select his strongest possible lineup for the tournament.

But difficulty securing the release of several Samurai Blue mainstays from their overseas clubs may have swayed the decision to once again use the South American continental tournament as an Olympic testing ground.

The Copa America is sanctioned by FIFA, but clubs are only required to release players from countries in South America’s CONMEBOL federation.

“We are gunning for the gold at the Tokyo Olympics. I think players must be able to succeed at the senior national team level in order to achieve our target,” Moriyasu said.

“I hope they grow by playing for the national side and winning as many matches as possible.”

Among the debutants currently playing overseas are 22-year-old defender Ko Itakura, with Groningen in the Dutch first division, and winger Tatsuya Ito, 21, of Hamburger SV in the German second division.

Itakura signed at the start of the year with English Premier League champion Manchester City, which immediately loaned him out to Groningen.

Ito won the Bundesliga’s rookie of the month award with Hamburg in April last year. Standing just 160 cm, the former Japan U-21 is renowned for his dribbling ability.

Former Barcelona youth player Kubo, who has excelled as an attacking midfielder this season for FC Tokyo, received his first senior national call-up on Thursday, when he was named to the squad for friendlies next month against Trinidad and Tobago, and El Salvador.

Japan squad for Copa America:

Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Strasbourg), Ryosuke Kojima (Oita Trinita), Keisuke Osako (Sanfrecce Hiroshima).

Defenders: Naomichi Ueda (Cercle Brugge), Ko Itakura (Groningen), Tomoki Iwata (Oita Trinita), Yugo Tatsuta (Shimizu S-Pulse), Teruki Hara (Sagan Tosu), Daiki Sugioka (Shonan Bellmare), Daiki Suga (Consadole Sapporo), Takehiro Tomiyasu (Sint-Truiden).

Midfielders: Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Shoya Nakajima (Al-Duhail), Yuta Nakayama (PEC Zwolle), Koji Miyoshi (Yokohama F Marinos), Tatsuya Ito (Hamburger SV), Taishi Matsumoto (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Kota Watanabe (Tokyo Verdy), Hiroki Abe (Kashima Antlers), Takefusa Kubo (FC Tokyo).

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Daizen Maeda (Matsumoto Yamaga), Ayase Ueda (Hosei University).