Munich - In addition to their own homegrown favourites, German Bundesliga fans will more than likely be watching a number of familiar faces strut their stuff when Japan take to the field at next summer's FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil.
A third of the squad based in Germany
The Samurai Blues stamped their ticket to the 2014 tournament back in June as the first qualifiers alongside the host nation. And while the qualifying campaign reached its conclusion in Europe and elsewhere last week, the 2011 AFC Asian Cup winners kept themselves busy with friendlies against Serbia and Belarus, where a whole host of Bundesliga stars were on show.
No less than 14 of Alberto Zaccheroni’s squad are based in Europe, as many as eight of whom are currently earning their corn in the Bundesliga. FC Schalke 04 right back Atsuto Uchida, 1. FC Nürnberg’s Makoto Hasebe and 1. FSV Mainz 05's Shinji Okazaki all started against Serbia in Novi Sad last Friday, with Hajime Hosogai of Hertha Berlin, Nürnberg's Hiroshi Kiyotake and Eintracht Frankfurt's Takashi Inui all coming off the bench in the 2-0 defeat.
They all can have realistic hopes of making the plane to Brazil for the finals, as indeed do the Bundesliga's other two squad representatives. Gotoku Sakai has been an ever-present in the league so far for rapidly improving VfB Stuttgart and the same goes for his namesake and fellow full-back Hiroki Sakai who is maturing with each passing game in his second season at Hannover 96.
Germany’s ever-growing Japanese contingent represent a fair mix in terms of their respective positions, but pace and poise in attack and the ability to carve out scoring opportunities for others are typical of the attributes that Germany's Japanese stars possess.
Pioneered by former Borussia Dortmund star Shinji Kagawa, who won consecutive Bundesliga titles and the DFB Cup in 2012, players such as Kiyotake and Inui are the perhaps the best examples of the creative midfield talent arriving in the Bundesliga from Japan in recent years. The two of them go head-to-head this weekend when Inui's Frankfurt take on Kiyotake's Nürnberg.
Yet Japanese imports have also proved to be invaluable assets at the back as well. Hasebe will also feature for Nürnberg in the Commerzbank Arena as the defensive midfield foil to Kiyotake, a job similar to that which Hosogai will be performing when Hertha take on Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday evening. And then there the two Sakais, as well as Uchida, the marauding full backs ready to tear up the right wing again on Matchday 9.
In almost every game, it seems, there is a Japanese star playing for a potential place at next summer's World Cup. Those coveted spots in Zaccheroni's squad may be at the back of the players' minds, but in the interim, they can no doubt be relied upon to put club firmly before country.