World Cup 2018 Japan team profile: How they qualified, star man, World Cup record, fixtures
Japan have some standout individual players but the real question will be whether or not they can perform as a team. Here's everything you need to know.
- Honours: AFC Asian Cup (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011)
- Fifa Ranking: 60
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
The Blue Samurai finished top of their group in qualification, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. They were strong defensively and conceded just seven goals in 10 matches. Their top scorer was winger Genki Haraguchi who ended with 4 goals.
STAR MAN – Shinji Kagawa (BVB)
Shinji Kagawa struggled last season for form and fitness as he played just 18 matches in the Bundesliga, scoring five times. Another injury hampered his preparation for the World Cup but he is still Japan's biggest threat.
He is still 29 and he has the chance to stamp his authority on this tournament for Japan but the big question is if he will be ready physically to put in the level of performance required.
Shinji Kagawa looks on during a training session on June 3, 2018 in Seefeld, Austria.Getty Images
NEXT BIG THING – Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol)
Japan's squad is hardly blessed with young talent. Midfielder Kenta Misao (22) from Kashima Antlers is a solid player but he does not yet have the vision or anticipation you would want from a player in his position. Yousuke Ideguchi (21) has played just 108 minutes for Cultural Leonesa in Spain.
The young star we've selected is goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura (23, Kashiwa Reysol) who is next in line when the legendary Eiji Kawashima needs replacing as the team's number one. He has been the first choice for Kashiwa for the past four seasons and has impressed so far in his career.
Kosuke Nakamura of Japan during the International friendly match between Japan and Mali at the Stade de Sclessin on March 23, 2018 in Liege Belgium.Getty Images
THE COACH – Akira Nishino
Under Vahid Halilhodžić Japan qualified for the World Cup but his rein was marked by conflict with the FA and some senior players. The Bosnian was replaced in April by Akira Nishino (63) who played 12 times for the national team.
He is loved in Japan for his role as coach of the Olympic team which defeated Brazil at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In his first game back in the dugout Japan lost 2-0 against Ghana. He believes that friendly results don’t count and was happy with his team performance, especially their quick transitions in attack.
Head coach Akira Nishino of Japan attends the World Cup squad announcement press conference on May 31, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan.Getty Images
WORLD CUP HISTORY
It will be Japan's fifth appearance at the World Cup. The first was at the 1998 tournament in France where they won just a solitary point. In 2002 and 2010 it was far better – Japan managed to make it to the Round of 16. Four years ago it was disappointment – with just one point in the group stage again.
REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
Things could be worse, Halilhodžić could still be in charge. Now, with Nishino on the bench the atmosphere in the team should be better. Players look to be happy with that change and they go into the tournament with nothing to lose. Especially in Group H with Poland, Colombia and Senegal as it is a very even group and anything could happen.
- 19th June -Colombia
- 24rd June -Senegal
- 28th June -Poland