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With eight Germany-based players in their World Cup squad, Japan had plenty of inside knowledge as they downed Hansi Flick's side. - © DFL
With eight Germany-based players in their World Cup squad, Japan had plenty of inside knowledge as they downed Hansi Flick's side. - © DFL
bundesliga

Ritsu Doan, Takuma Asano and Japan's Bundesliga core that overcame Germany at the FIFA World Cup

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Germany took on Japan in their World Cup opener and came unstuck against a team boasting eight Bundesliga-based players, with Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano stunning their adopted home country.

There's no getting around it; the Samurai Blue spine that took part at the 2022 FIFA World Cup was been very much shaped by the Bundesliga.

Not even Japan's top-tier was better represented than its Germany counterpart, with seven Bundesliga players - and another from Bundesliga 2 - outstripping the J-League's six.

That included captain Maya Yoshida, then of Schalke, as well as former Stuttgart stalwart Wataru Endo and UEFA Europa League winner with Eintracht Frankfurt, Daichi Kamada, who all started the 2-1 come-from-behind win against Hansi Flick's side in their Group E opener in Qatar.

Watch: A Japanese lesson from Makoto Hasebe

Freiburg's Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano of Bochum - who are still ighting up the Bundesliga - came off the bench to score the second-half goals, with an assist from Ko Itakura of Borussia Monchengladbach for the latter's winner. Ao Tanaka (Fortuna Dusseldorf) was called up from the division below and started in midfield alongside Endo, whose former clubmate, the Stutgart defender Hiroki Ito, was an unused sub.

During the finals, Japan repeated their winning trick against Spain in a gripping group-stage finale on 1 December. After going behind to Alvaro Morata's opener, second-half goals from Doan and Tanaka turned the tables on La Roja to go through to the last 16 as section winners.

And it was by no means a surprise given the long-standing link between the Bundesliga and Japanese football, even if numbers have increased at a rapid rate in recent years.

Yasuhiko Okudera was the first to make the journey from Japan to Germany in 1977 when he signed for Cologne, and he was followed by Kazuo Ozaki in 1983.

It was at the turn of the millennium that things started to ramp up, with the likes of Naohiro Takahara, Junichi Inamoto and Shinji Kagawa all following suit.

The arrival of Makoto Hasebe – who alongside Genki Haraguchi are among the current crop of Japanese players plying their trade at the top of the German pyramid - in 2008 was possibly the most significant, with the now 38-year-old currently on 377 Bundesliga appearances and counting.

A Bundesliga champion with Wolfsburg in just his second season led to further success in the DFB Cup a decade later with Frankfurt, with whom he lifted the UEFA Europa League title in 2022.

Kamada, who converted in Frankfurt's victorious penalty in that triumphant Europa League final shootout against Rangers said in the past that believes that German football has greatly benefited Japan's national team.

“There are a lot of Japanese players in the Bundesliga now and I think we're on an equal footing with them [the German national team],” the Lazio player told AFP.

“When I first arrived in the Bundesliga from Japan, I was playing against players from Bayern Munich and the Germany national team. But when I was playing in Japan, there were only one or two players from the Japan national team over there.

“It was strange to be playing against players I had only watched on TV before, but I think it has a big effect on us mentally to be sharing the same stage as them.”

Not only that, but the fact Kamada had the the numbers in Germany to back up his words also played a big psychological role. The 27-year-old was one of the Bundesliga’s star performers before he left for Italy, hitting 20 goals and 29 assists in 127 German top-flight appearances. Only a handful of players in the Bundesliga could boast of more direct goal involvements than him in 2022/23.

“It is definitely a plus to have the experience of playing with such players and knowing their characteristics,” Kamada previously said. 

WatchKamada's Bundesliga goals and assists in 2022/23

Yoshida, who made the move from Serie A's Sampdoria to Schalke in July 2022, says that his transfer to the Bundesliga was – at least in part – strategically planned with the World Cup in mind.

“Many things influenced my decision to play in Germany and the opportunity to learn about [our group stage] opponent was among them,” the 35-year-old veteran of 126 international caps told The Japan News ahead of participating at his third World Cup.

“More than 80,00 fans filled Dortmund’s stadium in [the 2022/23] Revierderby. When I saw the Yellow Wall behind the goal I thought, ‘this is why I came to Germany’. In tight games like that one against Dortmund, you can be in a situation where one positional error could decide the match. I feel like I’m learning a lot in Germany.

“I felt happy that I’d made the switch to the Bundesliga. You can’t sharpen your skills unless you’re in that kind of high-pressure situation.”

The fact that Japan’s Bundesliga core ran through the Japan team in a variety of positions at the World Cup finals stood them in good stead, giving them experience all over the pitch. Yoshida, Itakura and Ito are all defenders; Kamada, Endo and Tanaka are midfielders; Doan is an attack-minded winger and Asano a forward.

All of which gave Japan confidence in their seventh consecutive World Cup tournament. The Samurai Blue progressed to the round of 16 in Qatar, eventually losing out to Croatia.