The Japanese work hard. It’s part of the culture and the same can be said of the national team. They are technically proficient, tactically disciplined and became the first team -- other than host Brazil -- to book their berth at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. By no means a pushover.

The Star

Keisuke Honda. The man who makes Japan tick. The Milan attacking midfielder, who’ll turn 28 the day before Japan’s opening game in Brazil, scores and creates goals in equal measure. Honda is also a dead ball specialist -- many of his goals come from direct free kicks.

Fast Facts

  • World Cup Group: C
  • Nickname: Samurai Blue
  • Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni
  • Captain: Makoto Hasebe
  • FIFA World Ranking: 46
  • Best World Cup Result: Round of 16 - 2002 & 2010
  • Qualification Method: 1st in AFC Group B (1st nation to qualify)

Road to Rio

Negotiated quickly and without fuss. Comfortably topped its AFC qualifying group, scoring 16 goals and conceding just five in eight matches. In late 2013, Japan tied the Netherlands 2-2 before beating World Cup seeds Belgium 3-2 in friendly internationals.

How they Fared in 2010

Caught the eye and surprised a few. Japan lost to eventual runners-up Holland but won its other group games to advance to the round of the 16. Came agonizingly close to the quarter-finals but lost to Paraguay on penalties after a titanic stalemate in Pretoria.

Fixtures

Group C

  • Saturday June 14 -- Ivory Coast vs. Japan, 9 p.m. ET
  • Thursday June 19 -- Japan vs. Greece, 6 p.m. ET
  • Tuesday June 24 -- Japan vs. Colombia, 4 p.m. ET

Outlook

Moderately optimistic. Japan can feel confident of its chances of making progress from a group which could be wide open. Honda can make something out of nothing and has an able supporting cast featuring the two Shinjis: Kagawa and Okazaki. The round of 16 is a realistic prospect for the Samurai Blue.