Steely backfield with youthful attack could be gold-winning formula for Japan

Takefusa Kubo and Hiroki Sakai - born 11 years apart - have both been equally influential for Japan in their run to the quarter-finals of the men's football tournament at the Tokyo Olympics. Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

With just three overaged players allowed in the men's football competition at the Olympics, the temptation must have been there for Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu to use at least one of those on a senior attacker.

That is what plenty of other countries did.

Marco Asensio for Spain. Max Kruse for Germany. Andre-Pierre Gignac for France. Hwang Ui-jo for South Korea. New Zealand even got Burnley's Chris Wood involved ahead of the new Premier League season.

Goals win games after all.

Moriyasu could have tapped Takumi Minamino, Yuya Osako or even older players like Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, who no longer feature for the senior national team but would still have offered plenty at a tournament like the Olympics.

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Japan have never had trouble producing talented attacking players, so Moriyasu opted to shore things up at the back instead and put his faith in youth to get the goals.

The decision has proven to be savvy as the Samurai Blue advanced to the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Games as the only team with a perfect record of three consecutive wins.

While goals do win games, relying on an individual for match-winning moments does not always work. Moriyasu chose to build from the back knowing that a strong foundation would offer some insurance.

In came senior team captain Maya Yoshida and right-back Hiroki Sakai, who both have two FIFA World Cups under their belt, and the slightly-younger Wataru Endo -- recently named as the new captain of Bundesliga outfit Stuttgart.

None of the trio can claim the be the biggest names Japanese football has produced, despite boasting plenty of experience -- nor do they fall into the "match-winner" category (although Sakai did get amongst the goals in Wednesday's 4-0 rout of France).

But they have all played their role in a tactically-sound and well-organised unit that only conceded once in three Group A matches.

With the situation at the back settled, it has become easier for the players in the attacking third to get their job done. Japan have a handful of talented youngsters that can do that and two who stand out.

The first is the name on everyone's lips at the moment and his story is a familiar one by now. Having learnt his trade at Barcelona's famed La Masia academy, Takefusa Kubo briefly returned home with FC Tokyo before being snapped up Real Madrid -- although he has spent the last two seasons out on loan.

The 20-year-old has been hailed as belonging to the special group of players capable of singlehandedly winning a match and he has not disappointed at the Games so far, scoring in all three of his appearances.

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Perhaps more credit also has to go to Ritsu Doan, who has been in Europe for the past five years yet is still only 23.

On loan at Arminia Bielefeld last term, Doan's five goals saw him finish the campaign as their joint-top scorer in the Bundesliga as they narrowly avoided relegation.

He may not boast the X-factor that Kubo has but Doan is by no means a less-talented player, and arguably offers more in terms of physicality and pressure.

In the same way that Shinji Okazaki played a crucial part for Japan, as well as in Leicester's stunning Premier League-winning campaign, without ever being prolific, Doan's value comes more than just in his scoring output.

Kubo and Doan are just the two standout names in a squad brimming with youthful adventure, that has been allowed to thrive under the faith Moriyasu has placed in them.

Add in the steely experience that Yoshida, Sakai and Endo bring to the table, and the Samurai Blue may just have stumbled upon a winning formula for a gold medal at the Olympics.