In our Japan Preview: World Cup 2018, we share our analysis about this Japan team, and whether they have chances to go deep in this competition or not.

Japan Preview: World Cup 2018

Full Squad

Goalkeepers: Elji Kawashima, Masaaki Higashiguchi, Kosuke Nakamura

Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo, Tomoaki Makino, Wataru Endo, Maya Yoshida, Hiroki Sakai, Gotoku Sakai, Gen Shoji, 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 Osako, Yoshinori Muto

  • Manager: Akira Nishino
  • Captain: Makoto Hasebe
  • Best Finish: Second Round (2002, 2010)

Likely starting lineup


We’ve gotten used to Japan making it to the World Cup finals, as Russia will be their sixth appearance in succession. However, they won’t have had a buildup to the event quite as tumultuous as this one before.

Vahid Halilhodzic was the coach expected to lead the Samurai Blue into the tournament, although he was sacked in April and replaced by former Japan player Nishino. The ex-manager angrily claimed the Japanese Football Association were more focused on money that the team’s success.

It means Japan will go into the World Cup without having played a competitive game under their new boss. At the time of writing, the two friendlies they’ve had in preparation for the tournament have not gone well either, as they’ve been poor in 2-0 losses to Ghana and Switzerland.

While Halilhodzic appeared to be trying to phase out some of the stalwarts of the Japan side, under Nishino the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda are likely to be recalled to the XI. Given the upheaval they’ve had as of late, that experience may prove to be vital.

Nishino also appears set to put faith in Takashi Usami, who has enjoyed a fine season in the second tier of German football with Fortuna Dusseldorf; the midfielder, who was once on Bayern Munich’s books, has undoubted talent, but has yet to showcase his ability consistently at the highest level.

The defense should be solid, with Maya Yoshida, Hiroki Sakai and Yuto Nagatomo all dependable performers for their respective clubs. At the sharp end of the pitch Shinji Okazaki is a Japan icon, having netted 50 times in international matches; the Leicester City man may miss out to Yoshinori Muto, though.

Japan’s group does give them a chance to progress into the last-16 for a third time if things do suddenly click into gear. However, all the signs point to a team that’s going to struggle in all three of their games this summer.


Key Man – Shinji Kagawa

Ahead of the previous World Cup big things were expected of Kagawa despite a tough spell with Manchester United. However, he’s struggled to get his career back on track since leaving Borussia Dortmund for the Premier League in 2012.

Now 29, Kagawa has the best chance to show what he can do on the biggest stage and add to the legacy he has established with the national team in 90 appearances.

In the season just gone he was far from a regular for Dortmund, making just 12 starts in the Bundesliga. His lack of consistency meant he was unable to impress Peter Bosz and then Peter Stoger enough to earn a run of games at the Westfalenstadion.

Nevertheless, of all the players in this Japan squad he is the man most capable of sparking the team into life. A turn of pace may no longer be something Kagawa posses, but he is still an excellent technician and someone who can unpick a tight defence with an incisive pass.


Japan’s Group Stage fixtures

Tuesday, June 19

Colombia vs. Japan, 8am, FS1, Telemundo, Sling Blue and fubo (7-day free trial)

Sunday, June 24

Japan vs. Senegal, 11am, FOX, Telemundo, Sling Blue and fubo (7-day free trial)

Thursday, June 28

Japan vs. Poland, 10am, FS1, Universo, Sling Blue and fubo (7-day free trial)


Japan’s path to the final

If Japan wins Group H, their Round of 16 game will be against the country that finishes second from Group G which will either be England, Belgium, Panama or Tunisia. If Japan wins that Round of 16 game, Japan will enter the quarterfinal stage with a game against the team that is victorious between the winner of Group F (Germany, Mexico, South Korea or Sweden) and the team that finishes second in Group E (either Costa Rica, Serbia, Brazil or Switzerland). If Japan advances to the semi-final stage, it’ll play the winner of the quarterfinal that comes out of the B1 vs. A2 versus D1 vs. C2 series.

If Japan finishes second in Group H, Japan will play the team that finishes first in Group G (either England, Belgium, Panama or Tunisia). If Japan wins that game, it would be in the quarterfinal against the team that is victorious between the winner of Group E (either Costa Rica, Serbia, Brazil or Switzerland) and the team that finishes second in Group F (either Germany, South Korea, Mexico or Sweden). If Japan advances to the semi-final stage, it’ll play the winner of the quarterfinal that comes out of the A1 vs. B2 versus C1 vs. D2 series.



• Previews for all 32 World Cup teams
• World Cup Bracket (free download)
• World Cup groups
• World Cup TV schedule


Japan World Cup shirt (home)

Japan & adidas have been turning heads with their new home jersey for 2018. The Samurai Blue are back with a uniquely inspired design. The shirt sets itself apart with details that mimic traditional Japanese stitching techniques and samurai armor. The neck highlights key moments in the country’s footballing history and adds a nice red accent. Details on the shoulder include the classic adidas stripes in white for a lifestyle vibe.

See more details about Japan World Cup shirt


Japan World Cup shirt (away)

A modern interpretation of an iconic Japan national team uniform, this men’s jersey is a replica of the away shirt the current squad wears. A woven team badge on the chest has been specially designed to mark the 20th anniversary of the team’s first qualification for the world’s premier international soccer tournament. It has a slightly looser cut and sweat-wicking fabric for fan comfort. adidas is dedicated to creating products in ways that minimize their environmental impact. This jersey is made with recycled polyester to save resources and decrease emissions.

See more details about Japan World Cup shirt


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