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2022 World Cup Top Players: Japan

Minamino Among 14 Team Members to Have Played in English Premier League

Two of Five

When the 2022-23 season begins, Takumi Minamino will have played in two of the top five European soccer leagues. Easier said than done. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s expected to play in his first 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Japan hasn’t missed a World Cup since 1998, but Minamino wasn’t included in the squad for Brazil 2014 or Russia 2018.

Now, at 27 years old and after having played for one of the English Premier League powerhouses, Minamino is expected to lead Japan to the promised land. For them, it would be the quarterfinals since they’ve never managed to reach that stage. There’s only one thing: Japan is in what many consider to be the Group of Death.

2022 World Cup Top Players: Japan
Philip FONG AFP
  • Club Career

Takumi Minamino started his professional career at home. He joined Cerezo Osaka at age 12 and progressed through the academy. Contrary to what many people think, the academies in Japan demand a fairly high level, both tactically and physically, so it isn’t easy to stand out.

Well, Minamino did. In 2009, he finished as the top scorer in Japan’s U15 Club Youth Soccer Championship. Cerezo Osaka was eliminated in the quarterfinals, but that didn’t prevent Minamino from scoring eight goals.

Two years later, he was registered to the first team, making his debut in November 2012. In his first season, he went on to make five appearances and scored once in all competitions.

The following season, he became the team’s youngest player to score in the J.League Division 1. He even got some praise from Manchester United players and head coach after scoring a fantastic goal during a friendly match. That was his first contact with the EPL.

By the end of the 2014 season, he had made 42 appearances and scored eight goals in all competitions. That was enough for some European clubs to show interest, including RB Salzburg from the Austrian Bundesliga.

Minamino ended up playing six seasons for the Red Bulls, scoring 64 games in 199 games. Domestically, his best season was in 2016-16, in which he scored 11 goals. Two years later, he scored five goals in the UEFA Europa League.

In his last season with the Austrian team, he scored two goals in the UEFA Champions League, including one against Liverpool. That was his second and final contact with the EPL as the Reds didn’t doubt on signing him.

  • Serious Business

Minamino agreed to play for Liverpool, the first Japanese to do so, in December 2019. He made his debut in January against Everton. He didn’t meet expectations during his 1½ seasons with the team. Therefore, he went to play for Southampton on a loan, scoring 10 goals. That was enough for Liverpool to give him another chance. Unfortunately, things didn’t go his way. Overall, he scored 14 goals in 55 games with the Reds.

  • New Challenge

With Sadio Mane out of the team, it seemed that Minamino was going to have more minutes, but Liverpool broke his heart by signing Darwin Nunez. Therefore, the Japanese asked for his freedom and went on to sign with AS Monaco from Ligue 1. His contract with the French is for four years.

2022 World Cup Top Players: Japan
Philip FONG / AFP

  • With the Blue Samurais

As mentioned before, Minamino failed to make the cut for the 2014 and 2018 World Cup odds. In 2014, at least he was included in the preliminary 30-man squad. Anyway, he made his debut for the Japan national team in 2015. It was a friendly match against Iran. After a long absence due to lack of minutes at Liverpool, he returned to the Blue Samurais in 2018 and scored his first goal in a 3-0 victory over Costa Rica.

In 2019, he was selected for the AFC Asian Cup. He provided an assist in the first game against Turkmenistan. In the semifinals, against Iran, he assisted twice and won his team a penalty, enough to be named Man of the Match. He even scored in the Grand Finale, but Japan ended up losing 3-1 to Qatar. Overall, he has scored 17 goals in 42 games.

Last, but not least, he also represented Japan in the 2016 Summer Olympics. He played in all three Group Stage matches and scored one goal against Nigeria.

  • Japan in Qatar 2022

Japan had no trouble qualifying for the World cup soccer 2022 in Qatar. Minamino was one of the main reasons as he finished as the team’s top scorer with 10 goals. Overall, only Ali Mabkhout (UAE) and Wu Lei (China) scored more.

Regarding the grandest stage, the Blue Samurais will face Spain, Germany and Costa Rica. As expected, Spain is the betting online favorite to win the group at -120. Japan is offering a +1000 price.

Individually, Minamino is the only Japanese player who appears on the odds board to win the Golden Boot. He’s offering a +15000 price.

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