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Although sporting events across the globe have been canceled or reorganized in response to the coronavirus pandemic, soccer’s canceled youth World Cups and Asian Championships could have long lasting implications for an entire generation of young players.

“It’s a shame they can’t get the international experience that can only be found on that stage,” said Japan youth team manager Masanaga Kageyama, who was preparing his team for the U-20 World Cup in Indonesia prior to its cancellation.

The U-20 World Cup and the U-17 version in Peru would have provided young players the chance to test their mettle against their generation’s most talented players from Europe and South America.

Japan has competed in the U-20 and U-17 World Cups, including the competitions’ previous editions, 10 and nine times, respectively.

So far, Japan’s best result came at the U-20 tournament in 1999 in Nigeria. There, Shinji Ono, Naohiro Takahara and Masashi Motoyama were the stars of wins over Portugal, Mexico and Uruguay — the latter of which featured future World Cup top scorer Diego Forlan — in the knockout phase before losing to Spain in the final.

The best of Japan’s current crop of young talent in Europe also played in the 2017 tournament in South Korea. It was there that now Bologna defender Takehiro Tomiyasu, PSV Eindhoven midfielder Ritsu Doan and Real Madrid’s Takefusa Kubo, who was 15 at the time, caught the attention of international scouts.

Kubo, currently on loan at Spanish top-flight side Getafe, also featured in the U-17 World Cup in India five months after the U-20 World Cup. Japan lost on penalties in the round of 16 to the eventual winner England, which featured now-established talents Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho.

The Jan. 25 cancellations of the U-19 and U-16 Asian Championships represent a further blow to the aspirations of Japan’s young players.

“We want to take measures that will keep young players driving toward their future goals, without becoming pessimistic,” Japan Football Association Technical Director Yasuharu Sorimachi said.

The JFA may set up training camps for different age groups if conditions related to the coronavirus allow. But without big competitions to aim for, how valuable can such camps be?

With few options and similar or worse health conditions around the globe, the JFA is facing a tough task to avoid a “lost generation” of soccer talent.

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