Japan: AFC U-17 Asian Cup Rival Watch


The continental action is back in Asia post the U-20 Asian Cup with its U-17 category and both India and Japan have qualified for it. The 2023 AFC U-17 Asian Cup in Thailand will be the 19th edition of the tournament and India’s 9th appearance in it. The Blue Colts are set to face Vietnam, Uzbekistan, and Japan in Group D.

The match against the Asian Giants and defending champions Japan on 23rd June will be their Group’s last and perhaps most challenging encounter. How did Japan go from an average team to becoming a giant within four decades? How are they going about with their preparations?

From Average Joes in Asian backyards to Giant Killers on the global stage

Japan: AFC U-17 Asian Cup Rival Watch japanvgermany
Japan celebrate after Takuma Asano’s winner against four-time world champions Germany in what turned out to be a ‘World Cup shock’.

Facing today’s Japanese teams, be it senior or junior sides is a daunting task. The behemoth of an image that their national team currently carries has taken around three decades to instill within the opponents. Before the boom in the 1990s, they had no significant achievements other than the miraculous Olympics bronze in 1968 which created the first spark.

However, the major boost for football in the country that impacted culturally is credited to Yoichi Takahashi’s Captain Tsubasa Anime. It introduced the sport to the 1980s young generation of Japanese footballers. Hidetoshi Nakata, who is widely considered one of the greatest Asian footballers of all time was inspired by the show to take up football. The character development in Anime went as far as influencing the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Andres Iniesta, James Rodriguez, and Lionel Messi.

Coming back to the pitch, the country also has a century-old traditional school football tournament that started way back in 1917. The All Japan High School Football Tournament sees the winners from each of the country’s prefectures compete in Tokyo. The importance of this tournament is immense; apart from attracting popular sponsors, the J-League clubs scout and sign the players from this tournament. It was of no surprise that Reliance Young Champs U-17, an Indian academy side was blanked by Aomori Yamada High School by a massive 11-0 margin in Sanix Cup back in March.

Reliance U-17 team’s Sanix Cup Group Stage results in Japan.

The economic boom of the country in the later half of the 20th century also played a role in establishing the infrastructure. In the 1990s, Japan Football Association (JFA) introduced a national league, during the same period when India had its National Football League. Combining the cultural, infrastructural, and structural improvements, Japan made sure that they qualify for their maiden World Cup in 1998 on merit before they hosted it in 2002.

Most successful nation in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup

In 19 editions of the U-17 Asian Cup so far, Japan has the record for most appearances (16) by any nation in AFC and is also the most successful team with three titles. The first appearance was in the first edition of the tournament (1985) with the titles coming in 1994, 2006, and 2018 editions.

In the previous edition (2018) Japan was unbeaten in the entire tournament, dropping points only once against eventual runners-up Tajikistan. The same edition where India missed the ticket to World Cup by a whisker after going down by 1-0 to South Korea in an otherwise hard-fought match where Bibiano’s boys showed their exceptional defensive display. The same batch had earlier played a game against Japan where they went down by a narrow 2-1 margin. However, this is the first time where India faces Japan in the main tournament.

Preparations for defending the title

Japan’s preparations for the tournament kicked off as early as May 2022 with Six Nations tournament in Romania. The team started with a 1-2 defeat at the hands of Norway before thrashing Qatar and Saudi Arabia by 6-0 and 3-0 margins respectively. While still in Romania, they played a friendly against the hosts, losing by 3-2. Come June, Japan hosted the 6th edition of the U-16 Dream Cup where they clinched their fifth title after beating South Korea (3-0), Uruguay (4-0), Mexico (2-0) and Tajikistan (2-0).

With over a month left for the qualifiers, they travelled to Tashkent, Uzbekistan for the 2022 Mirabror Usmanov Memorial Cup. They were handed a heavy 3-0 defeat by the hosts Uzbekistan, the same side that India defeated 2-0 and lost 3-0 in the two friendlies hosted in Goa earlier this year. In the second match, Japan suffered yet another heavy defeat of a 3-1 margin against Iran.

But the fortunes swung in Japan’s way come the qualifier tournament in October. The team qualified for the 2023 AFC U-17 Asian Cup in style by finishing top of their group with zero goals conceded. They beat the Philippines (3-0), Turkmenistan (7-0), Syria (3-0) and hosts Jordan (2-0). After qualification, they were drawn in Group D of the main tournament with India, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Japan: AFC U-17 Asian Cup Rival Watch japanu17training1
Japan U-17 national team training in Narita. Image: JFA.

Japan has been seen training and playing warm-up games against various domestic teams over the past couple of months. Japan Football Association (JFA) operates four teams within the U-17 category: the U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-17 High School teams with each of the teams receiving exposure tours. The U-17 team had an exposure tour to Algeria where they beat Mali by 3-1, drew with hosts Algeria by 3-3 and beat Comoros by 6-1.

The U-17 team had players who participated in the qualifiers as well as the friendlies in Algeria. At the same time, the U-16 batch played the Montague tournament in France where they finished as runners-up, beating the likes of Czechia (1-2) and France (0-1) before losing out to England on penalties in the Final. Three players from this U-16 side were promoted to the U-17 batch.

In April, the U-17 team played a friendly against Ryutsu Keizai University where the University side struggled with the press which was said to be their main feature. But the opponents ran away with a 1-0 win. The second friendly was set up against the Kanto University team composed of players who were two years older than the Japan U-17 side and had a track record of being called up for the national team. The Match ended in a high-scoring draw (3-3).

Post high intensive training games, manager Moriyama Yoshiro said “In order to achieve the honour of becoming the Asian champions and participating in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, each of us will do what we can and should do, giving us confidence.”

A week earlier, the team resumed their preparations in Narita City. During the team meeting, Yoshiro Moriyama announced that the team’s progress rate since the qualifiers increased by 50%. The team played a friendly against Kashima Antlers’ youth side before departing for Thailand on 12th June.

Player interviews

Goalkeeper #12 Kanbayashi Taisei (Montedio Yamagata Youth): “I watched the AFC U-20 Asian Cup matches played by the U-20 Japan National Team this year, but none of them were easy. The Uzbekistan national team, whom we will be facing in our first match, had beaten us by 0-3 in last year’s tour. I think it is important for us to work together as a team to win each match and move on to the next one. I want to do what I can do.” Taisei said in an interview conducted by JFA.

Midfielder #21 Yamaguchi Gota (Shohei High School): “As a team, of course, I want to win the championship in Asia, but as an individual, I want to show my strengths and increase the number of times I get involved in goals and assists. I am one year younger in this team, but when it comes to the match, age doesn’t matter, so I want to show a good performance.” Gota said to JFA.


Coaching Staff

Manager: Yoshiro Moriyama (Japan Football Association National Coaching Staff)

Coach: Nozomu Hiroyama (Japan Football Association National Coaching Staff)

Goalkeeping Coach: Norio Takahashi (Japan Football Association National Coaching Staff)

Physical Coach: Makoto Muraoka (Japan Football Association National Coaching Staff)

Role Model Coach (June 8th to 10th): Kengo Nakamura (Japan Football Association Role Model Coach)

Technical Staff: Hiromi Katagiri (Japan Football Association Technical House)

Technical Staff: Hideaki Watanabe (Japan Football Association Technical House)

Guest Coach (June 8th to 9th): Masashi Oguro (Gamba Osaka Academy striker coach)



12 Taisei Kambayashi (Montedio Yamagata Youth)

1 Wataru Goto (FC Tokyo U-18)

23 Ryui Araki (Gamba Osaka Youth)


13 Yumeki Yoshinaga (Kamimura Gakuen High School)

3 Keita Kosugi (Shonan Bellmare U-18)

5 Shuto Nagano (FC Tokyo U-18)

17 Shotaro Shibata (Kawasaki Frontale U-18)

4 Kaito Tsuchiya (Kawasaki Frontale U-18)

16 Kotaro Honda (Shonan Bellmare U-18)

2 Haruto Matsumoto (Kashima Antlers Youth)

22 Yuya Kuroki (Sagan Tosu U-18)


19 Daiki Miyagawa (Gamba Osaka Youth)

18 Yotaro Nakajima (Sanfrecce Hiroshima Youth)

20 Kawamura Rakuto (Tokyo Verdi Youth)

7 Sugiura Sugura (Nagoya Grampus U-18)

15 Joi Yamamoto (Tokyo Verdy Youth)

8 Kohei Mochizuki (Yokohama F・Marinos Youth)

6 Ryunosuke Yada (Shimizu S-Pulse Youth)

10 Ryunosuke Sato (FC Tokyo U-18)

21 Gota Yamaguchi (Shohei High School)


9 Yutaka Michiwaki (Roasso Kumamoto)

14 Nawada Gaku (Kamimura Gakuen High School)

11 Takaoka Reihata (Nissho Gakuen High School)

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Since 2019, I have been passionately writing and creating content about Indian football, capturing the spirit of the beautiful game in the beautiful country. As an avid supporter of the sport, I have dedicated myself to share the stories and insights that shape the terrain of Indian and Asian football world. Through my writing, I hope to inspire a love for Indian football and contribute to its continued rise on both the national and international stage.

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