(From Japan Today):
As he confirmed the names of the eighteen Japan Under-23 men’s national football team players who will make the trip to London 2012, Takashi Sekizuka largely demonstrated his faith in those who helped secure Japan’s place at the Olympic Games football tournament finals. Excluding Yuhei Tokunaga and Maya Yoshida, who are included as two of the three permissible over-age members in the squad, twelve of sixteen contributed to the qualification campaign a minimum of three times, a number which would have been higher were it not for injuries to FC Nuremburg-bound playmaker Hiroshi Kiyotake.
Of two players to make the cut who didn’t feature at all during Japan’s quest for their fifth consecutive appearance at the Olympics, both made a lasting impression on the Under-23 head coach at Toulon, Taisuke Muramatsu and 1899 Hoffenheim’s Takashi Usami among a select few to excel in a competition otherwise largely free of positives.
The 51-year old manager did spring what could be construed as a major surprise, however, opting to omit Kashima Antlers’ striker Yuya Osako. The 22-year old made four starts in six AFC Group C matches for the Samurai Blue, but has likely paid the price for a relatively poor showing in France and a domestic goals to games ratio of just one in every four, with his three strikes this season coming against Gamba Osaka and Consadole Sapporo, currently the two worst defences in the J.League. Sekizuka instead found favour with Kenyu Sugimoto, the teenage Cerezo Osaka forward currently on loan at Tokyo Verdy. The 6’2” Osaka native has found the net once every 294 minutes for the current J.League Division 2 leaders, leaving Hiroshi Ibusuki, a player of similar style and stature who plies his trade in the lower reaches of Spanish football at Sevilla Atlético, completely overlooked. Sugimoto’s participation in qualification was limited to a single substitute appearance in Japan’s 4-0 win over Malaysia in February, and he was passed over entirely for the Toulon Tournament, ensuring that questions will be asked of Sekizuka should Japan fail to proceed to the latter stages of the Olympic tournament which begins in July.
Shimizu S-Pulse and FC Tokyo supporters, meanwhile, are among those entitled to feel frustrated. S-Pa first-choice goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi, the last of the three overage players on the provisional roster, was only selected as an alternate, ensuring his presence at the Games will almost certainly be limited to that of a spectator. Gas defensive midfielder Takuji Yonemoto also makes the journey knowing that only a team decimated by injuries will provide him with any opportunity to play.
The Under-23 team meet New Zealand in a final warm-up match at the National Olympic Stadium on 11 July, part of a double-header in which the Nadeshiko face Australia before their medal campaigns begin in earnest on 26 July and 25 July respectively.
The full Under-23 Samurai Blue squad:
|GK||Shunsuke Ando||Kawasaki Frontale|
|GK||Shuichi Gonda||FC Tokyo|
|GK||Akihiro Hayashi *||Shimizu S-Pulse **|
|DF||Yuhei Tokunaga *||FC Tokyo|
|DF||Maya Yoshida *||VVV-Venlo|
|DF||Kazuya Yamamura||Kashima Antlers|
|DF||Daisuke Suzuki||Albirex Niigata|
|DF||Hiroki Sakai||Hannover 96|
|DF||Gotoku Sakai||VfB Stuttgart|
|DF||Kazuki Oiwa||JEF United Chiba **|
|MF||Hiroshi Kiyotake||FC Nuremburg|
|MF||Taisuke Muramatsu||Shimizu S-Pulse|
|MF||Keigo Higashi||Omiya Ardija|
|MF||Hotaru Yamaguchi||Cerezo Osaka|
|MF||Takahiro Ogihara||Cerezo Osaka|
|MF||Takashi Usami||1899 Hoffenheim|
|MF||Takuji Yonemoto||FC Tokyo **|
|FW||Kensuke Nagai||Nagoya Grampus|
|FW||Yuki Otsu||Borussia Mönchengladbach|
|FW||Manabu Saito||Yokohama F-Marinos|
|FW||Kenyu Sugimoto||Tokyo Verdy|
|FW||Ryohei Yamazaki||Júbilo Iwata **|
* – denotes an over-age selection
** – denotes inclusion as an alternate