The FC Tokyo and Japan forward feels the Education City Stadium match experience was useful for Qatar 2022…
Japan‘s Kensuke Nagai believes the experience of playing the 2020 AFC Champions League in 2022 FIFA World Cup venue Education City Stadium will enable him to pass on valuable local intelligence to his predominantly Europe-based Samurai Blue team-mates.
Nagai has made 10 international appearances. Importantly, three of them have come in the second round of the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup where Hajime Moriyasu’s side are comfortably placed as leaders of Group F having secured the maximum of 12 points from four games. The 31-year-old has also been on the scoresheet once during the three matches.
Japan, who are Asia’s top-ranked side, had reached the Round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and were leading the world’s top-ranked side Belgium 2-0 with a little over 20 minutes remaining. But they could not capitalise on the advantage as they conceded three goals to crash out in what was widely acknowledged as one of the best matches of the tournament.
With home continent Asia set to host the 2022 edition of the World Cup, the ‘Samurai Blue’ will be hoping to go deep into the tournament riding on the performances of the glittering array of the young generation of Europe-based attacking talent at their disposal.
Liverpool FC’s Takumi Minamino has already scored five goals in four 2022 World Cup qualifiers. His supporting cast of Real Madrid loanee, ‘wunderkind’ Takefusa Kubo, Porto’s Shoya Nakajima and Partizan Belgrade’s Takuma Asano and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada have been too hot to handle for weaker group opponents.
From the friendlies that have been played since the resumption of football after the outbreak of COVID, there are enough indications Moriyasu’s side could well be a formidable force for tougher defensive sides of Asia as well as the ones they will face in Qatar in 2022 should Japan secure its berth in its seventh consecutive FIFA World Cup since France 1998.
Addressing media ahead of his club’s East Zone Quarterfinal against Beijing Guoan on Sunday, Nagai emphasised that playing a 2022 FIFA World Cup venue during the ongoing 2020 AFC Champions League has endowed him with a rich repository of experiences to be carried forward to 2022 and potentially shared with his gifted team-mates.
“The matches that I have played in the 2022 World Cup stadium [Education City Stadium] have given me unique experience. I hope I can continue to play well in the World Cup qualifiers and get selected in the national team in 2022. If so, I will definitely pass on my insights to my team-mates,” said Nagai, who played in the first three of his team’s four group matches, all in the same stadium, and scoring in one.
It must be noted that many members of Japan’s current golden generation, including Minamino, Nakajima, Asano and defensive players Wataru Endo and Naomichi Ueda, first broke into the continental spotlight by winning the 2016 AFC U-23 Championships in Qatar.
However, that tournament was hosted when the three fully complete 2022 FIFA World Cup venues, now hosting the 2020 AFC Champions League, were still under construction.
Education City Stadium, called the ‘Diamond in the Desert’ due to its design, was formally inaugurated by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) in June 2020 through a virtual ceremony dedicated to the country’s healthcare professionals and frontline workers.
The 40,000-capacity venue, which will host matches through to the quarterfinal of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, had hosted its first match – a Qatar Stars League (QSL) game – on 3 September.
The stadium was then used, along with the other two fully complete 2022 venues Khalifa International Stadium and Al Janoub Stadium, during the 2020 AFCChampions League with Qatar hosting both West Zone and East Zone legs held in centralised formats instead of the traditional home-and-away one.