World Cup 2014 Team-by-Team Guide: Japan ready for Brazil
Past tournaments: 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010
Previous Best: Second Round, Japan and South Korea 2002 and South Africa 2010.
How they got here: Other than Brazil, Japan were the first team to book their place at the tournament after topping their AFC fourth-round qualifying group which included the likes of Australia, Jordan, Oman and Iraq.
Star man: Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United)
Shinji Kagawa’s lack of game time at Manchester United has been one of the great mysteries of the last two seasons at Old Trafford. And while the former Asian footballer of the year remains a peripheral figure for the Red Devils he is no such thing when it comes to playing for Japan. The 25-year-old, alongside Keisuke Honda, is the main attacking outlet for his country and his ability to drift into different positions makes him very difficult for the opposition to pick up. Japan will be hoping their star man can replicate the form that saw him named in two Bundesliga teams of the year while he was with Borussia Dortmund.
Under the radar: Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka)
It has been a while since Alberto Zaccheroni has had decisions to make about who will play up front for Japan but with the emergence of Yoichiro Kakitani he now has options in the final third of the pitch. The 24-year-old, who has been converted from midfielder to striker, has been in fine form over the past 12 months for club and country and after finishing as top scorer with three goals in as many games at the EAFF East Asian Cup he is now central to Japan’s World Cup plans.
Team nutcase: Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nurnberg)
Things should be much easier for Hiroshi Kiyotake at the World Cup after he and Kagawa took to the field for a warm-up for Brazil against 55 school kids. Japanese TV show Kyokygen 2013 came up with the idea and Nurnberg midfielder was happy to oblige alongside Manchester United’s Kagawa.The Japanese internationals did manage to find the net, despite there being three goalkeepers, but more importantly at least neither of them got injured! Now that would have been embarrassing!
How will they get on?
Japan would have been extremely delighted with the draw they received after being put in Group C with Colombia, Ivory Coast and Greece. Zaccheroni’s side have a realistic opportunity to repeat their second round performance of four years ago and after experiencing Brazilian conditions in last summer’s Confederations Cup, they will be confident of progress. With Ivory Coast and Greece their first two matches at the tournament Japan will need to come out of the blocks firing before they meet Colombia in the final group game.
Watch former Arsenal midfielder Junichi Inamoto score the winner for Japan against Russia at the 2002 World Cup:
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