Although sporting events around the world have been canceled or reorganized in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the canceled youth world championships and Asian championships of football could have lasting effects for a whole generation of young players.
“It’s a shame they can’t have the international experience that can only be found on this stage,” said Japanese youth team manager Masanaga Kageyama, who prepared his team for the U-20 World Cup in Indonesia before he was canceled .
The U-20 World Cup and the U-17 version in Peru would have given young players the opportunity to compete against the most talented players of their generation from Europe and South America.
Japan has participated in the U-20 and U-17 World Cups ten and nine times, respectively, including previous editions of the competitions.
Japan’s best result to date came from the 1999 U-20 tournament in Nigeria. There Shinji Ono, Naohiro Takahara and Masashi Motoyama were the stars of victories against Portugal, Mexico and Uruguay – the latter was the future top scorer of the World Cup, Diego Forlan – in the knockout phase before losing to Spain in the final.
The best young talents from Japan in Europe also played at the 2017 tournament in South Korea. There, the Bologna defender Takehiro Tomiyasu, the PSV Eindhoven midfielder Ritsu Doan and the then 15-year-old Takefusa Kubo from Real Madrid caught the attention of international scouts.
Kubo, who is currently on loan with Getafe, was also represented at the U-17 World Cup in India five months after the U-20 World Cup. Japan lost in the round of 16 on penalties to eventual winners England, in which the now established talents Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho appeared.
The cancellation of the U-19 and U-16 Asian Championships on January 25 is another blow to the aspirations of young Japanese players.
“We want to take measures that encourage young players to achieve their future goals without becoming pessimistic,” said Yasuharu Sorimachi, technical director of the Japan Football Association.
The JFA may set up training camps for different age groups if conditions related to the coronavirus allow. But how valuable can such bearings be without going for big competitions?
With few options and similar or worse health conditions around the world, the JFA faces a difficult task of avoiding a “lost generation” of football talent.
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Japanese Football Association, Masanaga Kageyama