Japan are one of those teams that qualify for the tournament every four years but after their inevitable elimination, no one remembers them. The World Cup seems to pass them by – they might get a win in the group stages but will usually succumb to stronger nations. Sounds a lot like England, except we can’t forget those shocking performances very easily. Anyway, here’s more than you need to know about the Japanese football team.
How did they qualify?
The same way they always do, by topping their Asian qualifying group. But this time, they only just managed to finish ahead of the world football superpower that is Saudi Arabia.
Who will I recognise?
The Premier League doesn’t boast a great number of Japanese players but there are two that you’ll certainly know. Shinji Okazaki, the man with the biggest calves in football, is Japan’s third highest all-time goal scorer having bagged his 50th goal earlier their year. He was part of the Leicester team that miraculously won the league title – he might even make it past the 60-minute mark for his country in Russia. Southampton defender Maya Yoshida is also a key part of the side and has 79 caps for his country but one man you associate with Japan and football is Keisuke Honda. The former AC Milan and CSKA Moscow midfielder is out of favour with his national side and, at the age of 31 and currently playing in Mexico, he’s going to struggle to make the plane to Russia.
Who should I look out for?
Former Manchester United playmaker, Shinji Kagawa, is enjoying his team back in Germany and is Japan’s key player. His close control, impressive link-up play and eye for goal are traits you’d expect from a Barcelona academy product (FC Miyagi Barcelona that is). Kagawa has enjoyed title success in three different countries and will be wanted to prove a point on the biggest stage of all. Arsenal have a Japanese player on their payroll. Takuma Asano is on loan at Stuttgart and is a promising striker with pace and prolific finishing. He’s yet to play in Arsenal red and, after a decent season in the second tier of German football, his loan has been extended for another year with Stuttgart in the Bundesliga.
Whose in charge?
Former PSG, Ivory Coast, and Algeria manager Vahid Halilhodzic has a wealth of managerial experience and hails from Bosnia. He’ll be heading to his third World Cup as a manager after leading Ivory Coast and Algeria to the finals in 2010 and 2014 respectively. On both occasions, his sides have impressed with Algeria pushing eventual winners Germany to extra time in the round of 16 in Brazil. Even if things don’t go well in Russia, life has been tougher for Halilhodzic. He’s endured the Balkan War, sustaining an injury while in Mostar in 1992 and had to flee his home country a year later.
What’s their World Cup record like?
Just to give you a better picture, here is the record of how far they got in the last five World Cups:
1998 – Group stage
2002 – Round of 16
2006 – Group stage
2010 – Round of 16
2014 – Group stage
They’re pretty consistent.
And finally, can they win the World Cup?
Well if you take into account their record above, I think they’re due a Round of 16 elimination. So no.