Japan have not qualified for the FIFA Under 20 World Cup since 2007.
They face a battle to break that record at the 2014 Asian Under 19 Championships in Myanmar. The current squad, despite a sprinkling of promising young players, is not rated highly.
Cerezo Osaka’s Takumi Minamino is the golden boy of the current squad. The 19 year old scored a wonder goal against Manchester United in 2013 and is Japan’s principle goal threat.
His Cerezo contemporary Mitsuru Maruoka, currently with Borussia Dortmund, is arguably Japan’s best U-19 player but was not selected for the squad in Myanmar. The thinking being that his development was better served in Germany where he is progressing rapidly.
Other established players in the Japan squad include Takashi Sekine who is making inroads on the Urawa Reds midfield, Genta Miura a promising central defender at Shimizu S Pulse, Hayao Kawabe, an intriguing midfielder from Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and Masaya Matsumoto who played in the same competition as a prodigious 17 year old two years ago.
Masaya Okugawa is the youngest member of the current squad and is a very interesting player. The Kyoto Sanga winger is only 17 but has been making great strides in 2014. He cemented his place in the AFC squad with a series of scintillating performances in earlier this year.
Against Australia in the ASEAN Football Federation U-19 Youth Championship Okugawa impressed watching Premier League scouts with his dribbling ability, skill and goal scoring (he scored twice in a 4-3 win).
Although it is unlikely he will start Okugawa provides an interesting option from the bench and has end product. He is a very bright prospect.
The biggest surprise in the Japan squad was the inclusion of forward Ado Onaiwu. The 18 year old striker is half Nigerian and plays for JEF United. This is his first involvement with the Japan youth setup and, although raw, offers another option should Japan find that they need to vary their short passing game.
Onaiwu is strong, quick and tall and has been likened by media in Japan to Musashi Suzuki the half Jamaican forward who plays for Albirex Niigata and the Japan U-23. Like Suzuki, Onaiwu is fast but he is also regarded as a more technical player and at 5cm shorter offers less of an aerial threat.
Japan’s opening match against China is vital, lose and they will struggle to get out of the group. South Korea and Vietnam are the other teams in the group.
South Korea look ominously strong and will provide any team in the tournament with a stern test. If Japan can face them on the back of two victories they will be delighted.
Elsewhere in the tournament North Korea will be looking to continue their extraordinary run of success in Asian youth competition. They are the current U-14 and U-16 champions, were they to triumph again it would be truly remarkable.
Indonesia continue to make progress and, led by their inspirational captain Evan Dimas, are a team full of endeavor and spirit. They face Australia in their second Group B game and will have to pay careful attention to the AS Roma bound Daniel De Silva.
Australia have reached the last four in the previous three tournaments and will be looking to De Silva, a supremely gifted midfielder, to help them maintain their fine record.
South Korea and FC Barcelona midfielder Paik Seung-ho is currently banned from playing in competitive fixtures for his club. He is one of the international youth players the Catalan side were deemed to have broken FIFA regulations in recruiting.
This tournament offers him a chance to stretch his legs and demonstrate his undoubted talent. Paik is very highly rated in Barcelona and regarded as one of the brightest talents at La Masia. He might be a little rusty but if he hits his stride he could be one of the stars of this tournament.
South Korea look good to repeat their victory from the 2012 AFC U-19 in UAE.