Takumi Minamino is set to rejoin the Liverpool first team for pre-season training this summer, and he will do so having equalled a fine goalscoring record with Japan.
Minamino spent the second half of last season on loan at Southampton, but as it stands is due to return to Kirkby to prepare for the upcoming campaign on July 12.
However, it could be that the versatile forward departs on a permanent basis, with Saints among his suitors, though Jurgen Klopp has previously stressed that his No. 18 is a “long-term project.”
It is safe to say that Minamino’s form since swapping Austria for England has been subpar, but for his country, the 26-year-old has consistently caught the eye.
Monday saw him score the second goal in a 4-1 victory over Tajikistan, guaranteeing top spot in their World Cup qualifying group to advance to the third-round stage.
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It was Minamino’s ninth strike in the second round, and it made it seven World Cup qualifiers in a row in which he had found the back of the net – having also laid on three assists.
This has seen him equal Keisuke Honda’s record with Japan, and with a final clash with Kyrgyzstan to come on June 15, he could go one better and set an all-time best.
No player in the Asian round of qualifiers has found the back of the net more times than Minamino, though he has arguably the highest profile among the nations involved.
Among the scorers are Werder Bremen’s Yuya Osako (eight), Genoa’s Eldor Shomurodov (seven), Espanyol’s Wu Lei (six), Zenit’s former Liverpool target Sardar Azmoun (six) and Stoke’s Harry Souttar (five).
Japan have made it to the World Cup on each of the last six occasions, with their involvement at the 1998 tournament in France their first – they hosted it alongside South Korea in 2002.
Three times – in 2002, 2010 and last time out in 2018 – they have reached their best-ever finish in the last 16.
Only four players have represented for Japan at the World Cup while on the books of a Premier League club, with Junichi Inamoto, Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki and Maya Yoshida laying the path for Minamino.
It goes without saying that, as Liverpool’s first-ever Japanese player, Minamino would be the first to do so while with the Reds if he stays at Anfield for the long term.