Team Profile: Japan
In 1997, Japan qualified for the World Cup for the first time. In 2002, they advanced to the quarter-finals as co-hosts of the tournament.
Colours: Blue shirts, white shorts, blue socks
Nickname: Blue Samurai
Previous World Cup appearances: (3) 1998, 2002, 2006
Best World Cup performance: last 16, 2002 (as co-hosts)
Coach: Takeshi Okada
Most capped player: Masami Ihara 122
Top scorer: Kunishige Kamamoto 75
FIFA Ranking (Apr 10) : 45
In 1997, Japan qualified for the World Cup for the first time. In 2002, they advanced to the quarter-finals as co-hosts of the tournament. Everyone in Japan remembers the ‘Tragedy at Doha’ in 1992. In the last World Cup qualification match, they allowed Iraq to score in injury time and salvage a draw. It meant they lost two points and their ticket to the World Cup. This affair and the J league‘s start boosted Japanese football fever.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Pundits thought that Japan would qualify easily for the World Cup and would only have trouble with Australia, but they were wrong. They qualified with two matches to spare but drew three times at home game and couldn’t beat the Socceroos.
At every World Cup, Japan has had excellent midfielders like Hidetoshi Nakata or Shinji Ono. This World Cup is no exception. The Japanese have good skill, accuracy, and devotion.
Japan lacks scoring punch upfront. Also it is hard for the squad to play against physically strong teams. They usually struggle against African teams as well.
This will be Takeshi Okada second World Cup. He became the coach in for Japan`s qualifiers in 1997. Japan ended up qualifying but did not make a splash in the tournament the following year.
Shunsuke Nakamura (Espanyol): He is Japan`s No. 10. He has great skill and intelligence. He makes plays and scores on set pieces with his left foot. Last summer he signed for La Liga outfit Espanyol. We will see an improved player in South Africa next year.
Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama F. Marinos): He became a professional player through a trial. Now he is Japan`s captain in most matches. Sometimes he is called the ‘Bomber head’. You can see his strength in the air not only in defence but also on set pieces at the offensive end. He reads the game very well.
Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse): He scored 15 goals in 16 games this year as a striker for the Japanese national team. He has good scoring sense and a fighting spirit.
BEST FOOTBALLING MOMENT
It has to be the World Cup qualifying play-off game against Iran. In extra-time, Masayuki Okano scored the golden goal to earn qualification for World Cup 1998. It is called ‘Delight at Johor Bahru’.
OFF THE PITCH
In recent years, the Japanese national team is not as popular as it used to be. It was very hard to get a ticket years ago but there are some empty seats at the stadium now. But many fans will still support Japan in South Africa.
WORLD CUP OBJECTIVE
Okada said their aim is to make the semi-finals. It will not be an easy task but it`s worth the challenge.