Japan

Full Squad:

Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo).

Defenders: Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96), Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart).

Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Makoto Hasebe (FC Nuremberg), Hiroshi Kiyotake (FC Nuremberg), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F Marinos).

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Yuya Osako (TSV Munich 1860), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale)

Best Finish: Round of 16 (2002, 2010)

LIKELY JAPAN XI FOR 2014 WORLD CUP

Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni

Captain: Makoto Hasebe

Japan became the first team to qualify for the competition when Keisuke Honda scored in injury time to secure a  1-1 draw against Australia. That late strike ensured they finished the group with a four point lead, and they suffered only one defeat in their entire qualifying campaign.

Manager Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan’s fourth manager in their five World Cup visits; is considered a legend in Italy, having managed through their leagues for 27 years. He took over the Japanese national team in 2010, introducing a hybrid 4-2-3-1/3-4-3 formation, looking to utilize Japan’s underrated attacking talent.

For Japan to better their last-16 appearance from the previous World Cup, Zaccheroni must make full use of Blue Samurai’s hugely creative forward players and the dynamism of flying fullbacks Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida.

And that was something evident despite finishing bottom of their group in the 2013 Confederations Cup. Japan received praise for their flowing, attacking style – most notably evident in their 4-3 loss to Italy, where they conceded an 89th minute winner.

They have a myriad of creative players in midfield, but whether they’re sturdy enough at the back or incisive enough up front remain to be seen. Japan start the tournament in Group C and will fancy their chances of qualifying from a group that contains Colombia, Greece and Ivory Coast.

Key Player – Shinji Kagawa

The Japanese talisman has been criminally underused for Manchester United, having signed in 2012.

Whilst at Borussia Dortmund, Kagawa was named in the Bundesliga Team of the Season; and as of last year, he was also named as the Asian International Footballer of the Year. Along with the set-piece wizard Keisuke Honda, Kagawa is Japan’s main attacking outlet, combining wonderful vision, intelligent movement, and exceptional technique.

The former Dortmund man has gained a reputation of retaining superb composure and decision-making, as well as being able to play in central midfield, on the wing and as a classic  No.10.

But he is at his sparkling best ‘in the hole’, a position he’s been unable to nail down for Manchester United. For Japan, he and Honda drift between wide-right and central attacking midfield areas, making both players notoriously difficult to pick up. He could be playing to put himself in the shop window this summer.

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