Defender Tomoaki Makino is the latest footballer to join an exodus of Japanese players to European clubs after Japan's impressive showing at football's showpiece in South Africa.
The 23-year-old, due to play at the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar in January, has agreed to sign with Cologne, J.League club Sanfrecce Hiroshima said on their website. He is expected to leave for Germany on Sunday to undergo a medical check-up and sign a deal with the Bundesliga side before heading for Doha to join the Blue Samurai for the continental championship, Japanese media said. Makino has scored 13 goals in 86 J.League matches since his debut in 2006.
The centre-back, who did not play at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, will be the fifth Japanese player in the German top flight alongside Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Makoto Hasebe and Kisho Yano (Freiburg). Hajime Hosogai reached an agreement on a transfer to Bayer Leverkusen last week and will be immediately farmed out to Augsburg in the second division.
Of the group of five Japanese, only Hasebe was playing in the Bundesliga before South Africa, where Japan reached the 2010 FIFA World Cup last-16 for the first time on foreign soil. Stuttgart are also reported to have offered a deal to Japan and Shimizu S-Pulse striker Shinji Okazaki, who scored a goal in South Africa.
In other post-2010 FIFA World Cup transfers, defender Yuto Nagatomo moved to Serie A club Cesena from FC Tokyo and midfielder Akihiro Ienaga signed with Spain's Real Mallorca from Gamba Osaka.
"I have been inspired as I watched how players of my generation like Nagatomo, Uchida and Kagawa change after moving abroad," Makino told Japanese media. "I don't want to be outdone by them."
Japan's 23-strong Asian Cup squad featured eight Europe-based players including CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda and Kagawa when coach Alberto Zaccheroni announced it last week. The number will rise to ten when Makino and Hosogai sign formal deals with their new clubs.
In December, Arsenal also signed 18-year-old Japanese high school student Ryo Miyaichi, who will join the English Premier League giants early in the New Year.