Team Profile: Japan
- Coach: Takeshi Okada
- Goalkeepers: Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (Jubilo Iwata), Seigo Narazaki (Nagoya Grampus), Eiji Kawashima (Kawasaki Frontale)
- Defenders: Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Nagoya Grampus), Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Daiki Iwamasa (Kashima Antlers), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Atsuto Uchida (Kashima Antlers)
- Midfielders: Shunsuke Nakamura (Yokohama F Marinos), Junichi Inamoto (Kawasaki Frontale), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Daisuke Matsui (Grenoble/France), Yuki Abe (Urawa Reds) Makoto Hasebe (VfL Wolfsburg/Germany), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow/Russia)
- Forwards: Keiji Tamada (Nagoya Grampus), Yoshito Okubo (Vissel Kobe), Kishi Yano (Albirex Niigata), Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse), Takayuki Morimoto (Catania/Italy)
Style of play: Japan coach Takeshi Okada has experimented with a variety of formations (4-4-1-1. 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2). Regardless of the setup, the Japanese play an attacking brand of soccer, with creative midfielders Keisuke Honda and Shunsuke Nakamura usually playing in the hole behind the strikers. Also, centre-back Marcus Tulio Tanaka is not shy about joining the attack, which means the team usually changes to a 3-5-2 formation when in possession. Veteran Yasuhito Endo serves as the defensive stopper, doing the dirty work in midfield that allows Honda and Nakamura to pull the creative strings with their killer passing ability and probing runs.
1st round matches:
- June 14 vs. Cameroon in Bloemfontein
- June 20 vs. Netherlands in Durban
- June 24 vs. Denmark in Rustenburg
Projected starting lineup (4-4-2): (GK) Seigo Narazaki - (D) Marcus Tulio Tanaka, Atsuto Uchida, Yasuyuki Konno, Yuto Nagatomo - (M) Yasuhito Endo, Keisuke Honda, Makoto Hasebe, Shunsuke Nakamura - (F) Shinji Okazaki, Keiji Tamada
- Teamwork: Japan doesn't possess a world-class striker, but that didn't stop them from scoring 23 goals in the qualifiers. Amazingly, 11 different players scored for Japan, a testament to the fact that they are greater than the sum of all their parts.
- Going with the flow: Coach Takeshi Okada hasn't tied himself to one tactical formation. Instead, he's used a variety of setups, and isn't afraid to change things if his original game plan isn't working. Tactical rigidity is one thing he can't be accused of.
- Roster balance: Okada has constructed a team with a healthy mix of veterans (Nakamura and Endo) with a crop of talented, up-and-coming youngsters (most notably Honda). This balance of experience and youth will serve Japan well in South Africa.
- Over confidence: Okada has publically stated that Japan will advance to the semifinals. That's a pretty bold (and unrealistic) prediction for a team that failed to get out of the first round four years ago in Germany.
- Tough group: Japan may be one of the best teams in Asia, but the competition in Group E is much stiffer. The Netherlands is one of the best teams in the world, Denmark is a strong side and Cameroon is also dangerous.
- Poor recent results: Outside of the World Cup qualifiers, Japan has looked shaky in recent friendlies, suffering losses to Serbia and South Korea, and being held to goalless draws against Venezuela and China. A sign of things to come in South Africa, perhaps?
Players to watch:
- Keisuke Honda - A standout with Russian outfit CSKA Moscow, the 23-year-old midfielder is a rising star in Asian soccer, known for his ability to score highlight-reel goals and free-kick expertise.
- Shunsuke Nakamura - The ex-Celtic star is renowned for his near-perfect long passes and his prowess from dead-ball situations. The playmaker's other strength is his versatility, as he can play in midfield, just behind the main strikers, or as a winger.
- Yasuhito Endo - An accomplished holding midfielder who can break up the opponent's attack one minute, and then launch his team forward with his outstanding distribution of the ball. An excellent on-field leader who holds the team together.
Key injuries/squad omissions: Coach Takeshi Okada caused a bit of stir when he decided to overlook midfielder UEFA Cup-winning midfielder Shinji Ono. The former Feyenoord star has experienced a bit of a renaissance since recently returning home to compete in J.League for Shimizu S-Pulse, but he has featured little for Japan since the 2006 World Cup, leading to exclusion this time around. Former Portsmouth goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was a surprise call-up - he has not played for the national team in 18 months due to a number of lacklustre performances after recovering from a broken leg.
Prognosis: First-round exit. It's hard to imagine the Japanese being able to advance to the second round. A trio of tough opponents in Group E means the Asian powerhouse will have to fight for everything it earns. Japan simply can 't compete with teams the calibre of the Netherlands and Denmark, and even Cameroon will prove a stern obstacle. If they finish third in the group, they should consider that quite an achievement.
ROAD TO SOUTH AFRICA
- Current FIFA ranking: #45
- Qualification route: In the third round of the Asian qualifiers, Japan (13 points) won Group 2 ahead of Bahrain (11 points). In the final round, Japan finished second in Group 1 (15 points) behind Australia (20 points)
- Key to qualification: Balanced scoring. Japan scored 23 times in the qualifiers but didn't rely on just one player to supply the goals. Instead, 11 different players found the back of the net for Japan, as they received goals from their midfielders and defenders - not just their forwards.
- Crucial result: A 1-0 win over Uzbekistan (June 6, 2009 in Tashkent) allowed Japan to become the first team to officially qualify for the World Cup.
- Qualifying record: 14 games played, 8 wins, 4 draws, 2 losses
- Goals for: 23
- Goals against: 9
- Top goal-scorer in qualifying: Shunsuke Nakamura, Yuji Nakazawa, Yasuhito Endo and Marcus Tulio Tanaka (3)
Qualifying results: (home team listed first)
- Feb. 2, 2008 - Japan 4, Thailand 1
- March 26, 2008 - Bahrain 1, Japan 0
- June 2, 2008 - Japan 3, Oman 0
- June 7, 2008 - Oman 1, Japan 1
- June 14, 2008 - Thailand 0, Japan 3
- June 22, 2008 - Japan 1, Bahrain 0
- Sept. 6, 2008 - Bahrain 2, Japan 3
- Oct. 15, 2008 - Japan 1, Uzbekistan 1
- Nov. 19, 2008 - Qatar 0, Japan 3
- Feb. 11, 2009 - Japan 0, Australia 0
- March 28, 2009 - Japan 1, Bahrain 0
- June 6, 2009 - Uzbekistan 0, Japan 1
- June 10, 2009 - Japan 1, Qatar 1
- June 17, 2009 - Australia 2, Japan 1
- Number of World Cup appearances: 3
- All-time record: 10 games played, 2 wins, 2 draws, 6 losses
- Goals for: 8
- Goals against: 14
- Biggest victory: 2-0 vs. Tunisia in 2002
- Biggest defeat: 4-1 vs. Brazil in 2006
- Top scorer: Junichi Inamoto (2 goals)
- Most appearances: Hidetoshi Nakata (10 matches)
- Hosted the World Cup: 2002
World Cup track record
- 1930 to1950 - Did not enter
- 1954 - Did not qualify
- 1958 - Did not enter
- 1962 - Did not qualify
- 1966 - Did not enter
- 1970 to 1994 - Did not qualify
- 1998 - First round
- 2002 - Second Round
- 2006 - First Round
- FIFA member since: 1929
- Team nickname: Nippon Daihyo
- All-time caps leader: Masami Ihara (123)
- All-time leading scorer: Kunishige Kamamoto (75 goals)
- Asian Cup Champions: 1992, 2000, 2004
- Olympic Bronze Medal: 1968
- Kunishige Kamamoto: Kamamoto helped Japan win the bronze medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, finishing as the tournament's top scorer with seven goals. He scored a record 73 goals in 75 international matches for Japan.
- Masami Ihara: An influential defender and national team captain for more than a decade, including when Japan played in its first World Cup in 1998. Played in a record 123 games during his career for Japan and was voted Asian player of the year in 1995.