Japan count on flower of youth
© AFP

The Japanese have bucked the prevailing trend by not including a single over-age player in their squad for the upcoming Men's Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing.

With the event looming ever larger, Japan coach Yasuharu Sorimachi is in confident mood. This despite being denied the services of striker Yoshito Okubo and playmaker Yasuhito Endo, both in contention for the squad's three available over-age berths, after the gifted duo were called up for senior national team duty.

Yet Sorimachi remains hopeful that his side will have a realistic chance of coming back from their trip across the Sea of Japan with a medal. And the Blue Samurai will have been buoyed by a 2-1 friendly win against Australia in Kobe on Thursday, which also served to dispel lingering doubts over the team's alleged lack of firepower.

"I've chosen the strongest players available, with the aim of winning at the Olympics. It was hard to make this selection as the squad can only contain 18 players," said Sorimachi, who has an enviable array of talent from which to choose his starting eleven.

Japanese Chilavert
One to watch out for on Chinese soil is first-choice keeper Shusaku Nishikawa. Dubbed the "Japanese Chilavert", after the flamboyant Paraguayan shotstopper, Nishikawa is known for stepping up to fire in free-kicks awarded around the opposition's box.

Another player likely to impress is Atsuto Uchida, the golden boy of J-League outfit Kashima Antlers, who has already turned out for the senior side. He is likely to be joined in the team by forward Takayuki Morimoto of Italian outfit Catania, whose classy finishing skills have already drawn comparisons with Brazil legend Ronaldo and Juventus' David Trezeguet. Sorimachi can also call on the thrusting physical presence of Tadanari Lee, a combative attacker born to a Korean father.

It is in the middle of the park where Japan's true strength lies. At recent editions of the Olympic Football Tournament, Japan's midfield has typically been packed with technically gifted youngsters, several of whom have gone on to bigger and better things on the international stage.

Hidetoshi Nakata played for the U-23s at Atlanta 1996 prior to forging a successful career in Italian football, while the likes of Junichi Inamoto, Shinji Ono and Celtic's Shunsuke Nakamura came to prominence after appearing at Sydney 2000. And from the team that travelled to Athens four years ago, Yuki Abe and Daisuke Matsui have both gone on to become fully-fledged Blue Samurai.

Of the class of 2008, Keisuke Honda turns out for Dutch outfit VVV-Venlo, and has the potential to be one of the outstanding midfielders on show in Beijing. Honda's deadly left-footed free kicks are reminiscent of dead-ball ace Nakamura, while his passing, vision and tactical nous have also been widely praised.

I don't just want to pass the ball, I want to set up goals
Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda sets out his ambitions for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament

"I hope we'll score from moves that flow right through the team. ," said Honda, one of a number of players who gained great confidence from the Australia match. "I'm looking forward to the future, and I think the team will gel."

Set to line up alongside Honda is the team's heartbeat, Yohei Kajiyama, and fans can expect to see plenty of forward surges from the dynamic youngster. European club scouts may also be asking for the phone number of Shinji Kagawa, another highly regarded midfield talent who made his J-League debut while still only a teenager.

The Argentina game will be the squad's last before they head off to the Chinese capital. Japan have not picked up an Olympic football medal since coming third at Mexico 1968, and will be hoping to end 40 years of disappointment this time around.

However, the first obstacle in their path is an extremely difficult group phase. Japan start their Olympic bid on 7 August against the USA, followed three days later by a clash with African powerhouses Nigeria.

As if that were not daunting enough, Sorimachi's charges must wrap up their group campaign against the Netherlands on 13 August. If Japan do come away with a medal from Beijing 2008, they will certainly have earned it.

Japan squad:

Goalkeepers: Kaito Yamamoto (Shimizu S-Pulse), Shusaku Nishikawa (Oita Trinita).

Defenders: Hiroki Mizumoto (Kyoto Sanga), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo),
Masato Morishige (Oita Trinita), Michihiro Yasuda (Gamba Osaka), Atsuto Uchida (Kashima Antlers), Maya Yoshida (Nagoya Grampus).

Midfielders: Takuya Honda (Shimizu S-Pulse), Hiroyuki Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale), Yohei Kajiyama (FC Tokyo), Hajime Hosogai (Urawa Reds), Keisuke Honda (VVV Venlo), Shinji Kagawa (Cerezo Osaka).

Forwards: Yohei Toyoda (Montedio Yamagata), Tadanari Lee (Kashiwa Reysol), Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse), Takayuki Morimoto (Catania).