3/20/2018 12:14:01 AM (GMT+3)

Japan’s investment in youth help football take firm footing

Japan’s investment in youth help football take firm footing

TOKYO, Japan: The men’s team have qualified for each FIFA World Cup since 1998 and the women’s side won the FIFA 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany, but thanks to All Japan U-18 Football Championship, a pool of talent has been created.

“There were only regional leagues before the establishment of the Prince Takamado Trophy in 2011,” Japanese Football Association (JFA) Secretary General Kazumichi Iwagami told fifa.com. “But since then, more competitive games have been played.”

Japan, who jointly hosted 2002 World Cup, has made unprecedented progress in recent years.

“The qualification of our U-20 national team's qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup last year was a huge success. Besides, a host of youngsters have gained experience in the youth league before earning a place in J-League clubs or even foreign teams,” added Iwagami.

The youth competition was launched in 2011, but despite its relatively short history, the competition has given opportunities to the juniors.

The project has reached more youngsters with local teams from nine regions contesting at the preliminary stage.

A total of 20 teams qualify for the final stage, where they are divided into two groups (East and West Zones) of 10 with each competing in a round-robin and home-and-away format.

“As for the financial support by FIFA, the funds are utilised for the travel expenses of participating teams,” said Tomohiro Kaise, Director of the JFA's Finance Department.

Striker Takumi Minamino, who is plying his trade with FC Red Bull Salzburg, is one of the best finds from the tournament. The 23-year-old has featured for Olympic and senior sides and is in the running for a spot in Vahid Halilhodzic’s FIFA World Cup in Russia squad. (Pic credit: FC Red Bull Salzburg)