AFC Asian Cup 2019: Can Yuya Osako shoulder the burden of Japan’s past?

When Japan announced their team for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, to many fans it signalled the end of another era. Gone were the stars we have come to associate the Samurai Blue with, such as Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, and in came youngsters such as Ritsu Doan. One such name on the list was that of Yuya Osako, who has been given a chance to take over from Honda and Kagawa and become Japan’s next star. 

For as long as one can remember, Japan has been Asia’s delegate to world football. The land of the Rising Sun has provided with several memorable National Teams over the years. Teams which have always competed at the highest level and have qualified for every World Cup finals since 1998.

That, however, is not Japan’s only contribution to football. The Asian giants have been responsible for producing some of the best talents on the continent, with a number of them going on to play in Europe. Hidetoshi Nakata, Shunsuke Nakamura, and Keisuke Honda just some of the names which come to mind straight away.

However, when the Samurai Blue announced their squad for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, it signalled the end of an era. Gone were some of the big names who had held the responsibility of carrying the national team for so long.

And so the responsibility to lead falls on the next batch of Samurais, one of whom is Yuya Osako.

The 28-year-old forward isn’t new to the national set-up. In fact, he has been around long enough to take part in two FIFA World Cups (2014 & 2018). During this time he has amassed nearly 40 caps while scoring 12 goals.

However, Kaseda-born frontman’s career has been filled with twists and turns.

Osako made his name at J-League club Kashima Antler, with whom he held an impressive scoring record of 65 goals in 191 games. His brilliant form at club level earned him a move to Germany, where he joined second division side 1860 Munich.

Once in Europe, Osako hit the ground running. He scored 6 goals in 15 appearances for 1860 Munich and earned himself an even bigger move to FC Koln, just six months in. The 28-year-old forward did lose his lethal streak at Koln but evolved into a more complete and important player.

Osako’s biggest contribution to Koln came during the 2016/17 season when his 9 league goals helped Koln clinch an unlikely European spot. The Japanese international scored the last goal of the season for The Billy Goats, effectively sealing a top 5 spot.

However, just a year after their European qualification exploits, Koln found themselves at the wrong end of the table and were relegated to the second tier and the Japanese international left for greener pastures of Werder Bremen.

Osako hasn’t always been prolific but he has shown time and again how crucial he can be for any side with his tireless work ethic and an eye for goal. The ex-Kashima forward now has an added responsibility – to lead the Samurai Blue from the front, amidst high expectations, as they go looking for their fifth AFC Asian Cup title.

And with two goals in the first game against Turkmenistan, it looks like Yuya Osako has taken the burden from the shoulders of the likes of Honda and Kagawa in his strides.