Daichi Kamada, Maya Yoshida and Japan's Bundesliga core that reached the World Cup knockout stage
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 has been very much shaped by the Bundesliga.
Not even Japan's top-tier is better represented than its Germany counterpart, with seven Bundesliga players - and another from Bundesliga 2 - outstripping the J-League's six.
That includes captain Maya Yoshida (Schalke), as well as stalwarts Wataru Endo (VfB Stuttgart) and Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt), who all started the 2-1 come-from-behind win against Hansi Flick's side in their Group E opener.
Watch: 2022 World Cup – the Bundesliga's International brigade
Freiburg's Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano of Bochum 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 Stuttgart clubmate Hiroki Ito was an unused sub.
Japan repeated the the 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 is 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 completes the list of current 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 362 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 just last season.
Kamada, who converted in Frankfurt's victorious penalty in that triumphant Europa League final shootout against Rangers - is quite possibly Hasebe's heir apparent for both club and country, and the 26-year-old 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] now,” he 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 has the numbers to back up his words also play a big psychological role. The 26-year-old has been one of the Bundesliga’s star performers so far this season, hitting seven goals and three assists in 13 appearances. Only a handful of players across Germany’s top fight have had more direct goal involvements than him in 2022/23.
"I think it’s good that we understand German, for set plays and so on,” Kamada continued. “It is definitely a plus to have the experience of playing with such players and knowing their characteristics.”
Watch: All of Kamada's Bundesliga goals and assists so far in 2022/23
Yoshida, who made the move from Serie A's Sampdoria to Schalke over the summer, 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 34-year-old veteran of 122 international caps told The Japan News ahead of participating at his third World Cup.
“More than 80,00 fans filled Dortmund’s stadium in this season’s 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 feel 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. Our chances of winning the match [against Germany] are definitely not zero, and the first game is always difficult for every team.”
The fact that Japan’s Bundesliga core runs through the team in a variety of positions should stand them in good stead too, 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 has given Japan confidence in their seventh consecutive World Cup tournament. The Samurai Blue have never previously progressed further than the round of 16, but are aiming to go one step further in Qatar. “Our objective is to get to the quarter-finals at the very least,” said head coach Hajime Moriyasu. “We know it won’t be easy.”
Having beaten previous champions Germany and Spain already, and given Japan’s solid Bundesliga foundation, anything is possible.
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