Japan brings elite squad to Brazil

An in-depth look at AFC champion Japan ahead of the Confederations Cup in Brazil. The Blue Samurais will meet Brazil, Mexico and Italy in Group A.

Blue Samurais are most successful team in Asia

Japan head coach Alberto Zaccheroni, right, gives instructions to defender Yuto Nagatomo during a friendly on May 30. (Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)


Quick facts

Group: A (BrazilMexicoItaly)

FIFA ranking: 32

Confederation: AFC

Head coach: Alberto Zaccheroni

Best result: Runner-up in 2001

Qualification method: 2011 Asian Cup champion

First-round schedule: Brazil (June 15 @ 3 p.m. ET), Italy (June 19 @ 6 p.m. ET), Mexico (June 22 @ 3 p.m. ET)


  • Group of Death test. One would think that in a tournament filled by soccer champions from around the world, selecting the "Group of Death" might be unfair. However, Japan is joined in Group A by a set of teams extremely difficult to overlook: Five-time World Cup champion Brazil, four-time World Cup winner Italy, and Mexico, the most successful team in CONCACAF history. With only two teams advancing to the next round, the odds are against the Asian squad, something they need to turn into an advantage and use in their favour.
  • Time to step up. In short competitions like the Confederations Cup a single mistake could mean disaster, something Japan can’t afford. The Blue Samurais have to jump on the field with a nothing-to-lose mentality, ready to push to the limit with soccer’s elite if they expect to make it into the top of Group A.
  • Talented gang. Alberto Zaccheroni’s team is perhaps the most talented in the history of Japanese soccer. The Italian manager boasts a squad full of young, strong and skilled players with blooming careers in some of the best European leagues. The most successful team in Asia can't be overlooked.
  • Feels like home. Though not necessarily friendly territory, Brazil may not be as hostile for Japan as it will be for the rest of the teams during the Cup. At more than one million, Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside the Land of the Rising Sun.

Key player

A playmaker with the ability to switch between the middle of the field and the attack zone, Keisuke Honda represents a constant threat to even the best defensive lines in the world. The CSKA Moscow player led Japan to its fourth AFC Asian Cup title in 2011, was named the tournament MVP and secured the nation’s ticket to the Confederations Cup.

The 27-year-old will connect with Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa and Stuttgart goal-getter Shinji Okazaki to form a scary triangle that will cause major headaches to opposing teams.


  • Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege-BEL), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima-JAP), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo-JAP)
  • Defenders: Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka-JAP), Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama F. Marinos-JAP), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata-JAP), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter-ITA), Atsuto Uchida ( Schalke 04-GER), Maya Yoshida (Southampton-ENG), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96-GER), Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart-GER)
  • Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka-JAP), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale-JAP), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg-GER), Hajime Hosogai (Bayer Leverkusen-GER), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow-RUS), Hideto Takahashi (FC Tokyo-JAP)
  • Forwards: Ryoichi Maeda (Jubilo Iwata-JAP), Shinji Okazaki (Stuttgart-GER), Mike Havenaar (Vitesse-NED), Takashi Inui (Eintracht Frankfurt-GER), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United-ENG), Hiroshi Kiyotake (FC Nurnberg-GER)