Confederations Cup: Know Your Star – Maya Yoshida (Japan)

All you need to know about Japan's defensive rock Maya Yoshida....

Full name: Maya Yoshida

Date of Birth: 24 August 1988

Place of Birth: Nagasaki, Japan

Height: 1.89m (6 ft. 2 in)

Playing Position: Centre Back

Asian Cup holders Japan kick-start their 2013 Confederation Cup campaign against hosts Brazil on Sunday, in what will be the opening fixture of the tournament.

Maya Yoshida has become a mainstay in the Japan national side over the past two years and will play a pivotal role in organizing the Samurai Blue's back-four.

However, even though he's slowly evolving into one of the most influential on-field figures in Alberto Zaccheroni's squad, Yoshida's unspectacular yet consistent outputs fail to garner ample attention.

Hence, Goal looks at the defender's career graph and explains why Yoshida's displays will be crucial if Japan are to have a successful outing at the Confederation Cup.

1. Early Years

Yoshida was initially a defensive-midfielder while playing for Nagoya Grampus's youth side.

However, after getting promoted to the senior team in 2007, the now 24-year-old was converted to a centre-back. For the next two seasons, Yoshida was arguably Grampus's best player and earned call-ups to the Japan's U-23 side and represented them in the 2008 Olympics.  

In December 2009, it was announced that Yoshida had made the move to Dutch club VVV-Venlo.

2. The Big Break

Although his performances at Venlo were attracting several potential suitors, last summer, while playing for Japan at the London Olympics, Yoshida's showings caught the eyes of the scouts of newly-promoted English Premier League club Southampton.  

Then Saints manager Nigel Adkins was ready to bet on the lad's talents and secured his services for a reported fee of £3 million.

3. Strengths

At 6 foot 2, Yoshida has a strong physical presence on the football pitch. He presses the opposing attackers well and rarely draws the ire of the referee, committing less than a foul per game.

He has been observed to remain calm under pressure, deals with one-on-one situations admirably and makes pin-point last-man challenges.

Yoshida's excellent positioning sense and understanding of the game make up for his lack of pace and help him break up the oppositions' attacks effectively. The Japanese international also possesses a high-work ethic, starting in 31 consecutive games for Southampton last season and can play as a makeshift full-back if needed.  

Moreover, even though he is yet to open his goal-scoring account at the St. Mary's, Yoshida has an an eye for goal, having netted 16 goals in 164 club appearances before making the jump to the Premier League.  

4. Weaknesses

It's hard to point out any specific weaknesses in Yoshida's game as the player is currently exhibiting exponential growth in almost all of his footballing attributes.

Nonetheless, it can be argued that despite a tall frame, Yoshida's heading skills leave much to be desired, with the lad winning just 63% of his aerial duels. Moreover, although this coincides with the fact that he plies trades at a relegation-threatened club, Yoshida's passing rate is still mediocre to say the least. The centre-back completes just 77% of his passes, a fairly dismal rate for any defender.

5. High Points

In 2011, Yoshida helped Japan to claim their fourth AFC Asian Cup title. He was the backbone of his country's defensive set-up at the tournament, which conceded only four goals in the five games he started.

Yoshida also captained his country at the Olympics last year. Even though Japan failed to win a medal, their backline with the help of Yoshida, caught the eye of critics.

6. What to expect from him in the Confederation Cup:

Japan play their first game against Luis Felipe Scolari's Brazil, while they also have to face Italy and Mexico in the group-stage.  

Even though the Asian powerhouse are not billed to progress to the knock-out stages, if Yoshida can produce a string of rock-solid defensive displays when he comes up against the likes of Neymar, Mario Balotelli and Javier Hernandez to name a few, Japan can be the dark horses in this tournament.