Japan qualified for the World Cup by finishing top in their Asian qualifying group. The team was the fourth to qualify, following Russia, Brazil and Iran. The team put in a strong effort and finished with only 2 losses, although the current manager was not in charge. Midfielder Genki Haraguchi finished as the team’s top scorer with 4 goals.
Ghana played their first match under the new manager on May 30th and did not look impressive. Ghana, a nation which did not qualify, overcame the Japanese team 2-0 in a friendly held in Japan. Although the team have 2 more friendlies before the start of the competition, the loss against Ghana is not a good start.
Japan Squad Outlook
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima, Masaaki Higashiguchi, Kōsuke Nakamura.
Defenders: Yūto Nagatomo, Tomoaki Makino, Wataru Endō, Maya Yoshida, Hiroki Sakai, Gōtoku Sakai, Gen Shōji, Naomichi Ueda
Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe, Keisuke Honda, Takashi Inui, Shinji Kagawa, Hotaru Yamaguchi, Genki Haraguchi, Takashi Usami, Gaku Shibasaki, Ryota Oshima
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki, Yuya Ōsako, Yoshinori Mutō
The team currently has two of the most talented midfielders the country has ever produced. Both Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa are vital players for the side. Honda has had a good season for Pachuca in Mexico, scoring 13 in 93 appearances from his midfield position. Kagawa is the other player at the heart of that midfield for Japan. The Dortmund midfielder will have to show his creative abilities if the team are hopeful of getting into the later stages of the tournament.
The team boasts a strong midfield but also has strength in other positions. In defence, Maya Yoshida is expected to ensure solidity at the back. Meanwhile, Leicester striker Shinji Okazaki will be required to be in top form if he is to contribute at this tournament. Okazaki currently is currently top scorer for the team out of any active player. Okazai will be hoping to add to his 50 goals for the national side.
King of the Country
Named by Pelé as one of only two Asian players in his top 125 living players list in 2004, Hidetoshi Nakata is one of the most influential Japanese players to have played the game. Having played for a number of clubs across Italy, the Japanese midfielder was highly recognised for his contribution to the team. He even received the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity, the country’s highest honour. This was awarded by then Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi for helping to improve the image of Italian football globally.
During his career, Nakata was nominated for the Ballon d’Or on three separate occasions. He was also named Asian Footballer of the Year in both 1997 and 1998. After a career spent playing in Italy, Nakata retired at the age of 29 while playing in the Premier League for Bolton. Nakata had a successful career with the Japanese national team, being capped 77 times and winning the Dynasty Cup in 1998 as well as finishing runners up in the Confederations Cup of 2001.
Who’s the Gaffa
The situation with the manager is an interesting one, as he was only appointed April 9th of this year. Akira Nishino is the current manager of Japan, and a former Japanese international. Most of Nishino’s managerial experience has been in the J-League. While managing in the Japanese league, Nishino has won many titles, including winning the Japanese League Cup twice, as well as the league title and the AFC Champions league as manager of Gamba Osaka.
Japan manager Akira Nishino has not yet had a chance to take charge of a competitive fixture with the nation. His first competitive game in charge will be Japan’s opening game of the World Cup against Colombia. As Nishino is very new, it is difficult to know what to expect from the side. So far, Nishino has only taken charge of one friendly game, which was a 2-0 loss to Ghana. The team will have to improve if they are to do well during the tournament. Nishino has not had a chance to prove himself as a manager at senior international level yet, with the World Cup being the first time he’ll take charge of a competitive fixture with Japan.
Likely Group Finish: 3rd
I feel Japan just don’t have what it takes to get past the group stages. Part of me is saying this because they are such an unpredictable force. The team that qualified for the World Cup is not the same one which will be going into the tournament, having changed managers from Vahid Halilhodžić to Akira Nishino. That unpredictability from Japan could serve them well into the later stages of the competition. However, it could also be their undoing as the manager doesn’t have long if he’s to get the team to play in the way he wants them to.
Lazy Fan Fact
Football only really took off in Japan with the introduction of the J. League in 1993. That was only 9 years before the country hosted the World Cup with South Korea in 2002!