FEATURE | World Cup One to Watch: Ritsu Doan

Since returning to the Bundesliga, Ritsu Doan has picked up from where he left off, in being a consistent attacking threat on the wing.

Having impressed many during his previous loan spell at Arminia Bielefeld, Freiburg spent around €9m for his services this summer, with the Japanese international signing from Dutch club PSV Eindhoven.

A regular since arriving back in Germany, the 24-year-old has been one of the club’s best performers this season. Forming a dangerous attacking pairing with Vincenzo Grifo, he’s played a major part in the Breisgau-Brasilianer’s excellent start to the 2022/23 campaign, notching up four goals and two assists in all competitions.

What stands out is his awareness to be in the right place at the right time. Both of his league goals have come down to his positioning, where he was well positioned to finish off chances clinically.

Against Augsburg on the opening day, he reacted well to quickly control a pass, and fire off a shot without much space, with a defender on his shoulder. Similarly, being stood at the far post for a corner allowed him to react and slide home a volleyed finish off a flicked-on header against Bayer Leverkusen.

While there’s room for improvement in terms of his goal numbers, Doan doesn’t lack for confidence in firing shots on goal. His attempts often test the opposing goalkeeper, with nearly half of his shots this season on-target.

A strong runner with a tremendous work-rate, he’s fit seamlessly in Christian Streich’s tactical system. His new team employ a more direct gameplan, demanding attackers chase down lofted balls from deep. Doan, who’s been the third fastest Freiburg player this season with a top speed of 34.37 km/h, is very capable of racing away down the channel to control long passes. With Freiburg’s full-backs often high up the pitch during attacking phases, he’s at home either doubling up out wide or floating around in the half-spaces in-between defensive opponents.

His nifty footwork allows him to be unpredictable in his ball movement, whether it’s forcing his way down the touchline or cutting inside to cause problems centrally. In tight spaces, he’s excellent in keeping the ball under control. Having completed more dribbles than any of his teammates, it’s clear the Japanese international can be entrusted to hold up the ball at speed, which is important given the deeper positions his midfield colleagues tend to take out of possession.

An excellent passer while in full flight, he’s comfortable playing one-twos with the likes of Michael Gregoritsch to create space behind the defensive line. Equally, his in-game intelligence is also of a high level, knowing when to lay the ball off or making a dangerous dribble in close spaces.

That intelligence translates when defending alongside his teammates. His hard-running nature means he’s often in the right position as demanded by Streich. Moreover, his forward pressure is essential for Freiburg’s successful transition play, constantly harassing defenders and allowing them no time on the ball.

Having made his international bow after the 2018 World Cup, the upcoming edition in Qatar marks Doan’s first opportunity to play on international football’s biggest stage. Amid stiff competition for an attacking midfield spot, the 24-year-old was chosen by Hajime Moriyasu in his 26-player squad, and he’ll hope his form can land him a starting spot for the Samurai Blue, who play with speed down the flanks in possession.

He’ll be teaming up with a group of six who also play their club football in Germany, including Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada and Stuttgart’s Wataru Endo, to knock off Die Mannschaft in their upcoming group-stage encounter. Undoubtedly, he’s excited to try adding to his tally of three goals in 28 caps against the home nation of his club.

“I cannot imagine what kind of feeling it would be there (at a World Cup),” he said to ESPN in August. “It was my biggest dream when I was a kid.

“I’m very honoured to play for my country and whenever I wear the national team shirt, I’m very proud of myself and for my family. If I score (at the World Cup), even better!”

There will be many who watch him regularly, who hope he doesn’t net on 23rd November.

Josh Sim

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