World Cup 2014: Japan national soccer team guide
FIRST TO QUALIFY
Japan became the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, as they did in 2006 and 2010. Making their fifth consecutive World Cup appearance, it’s seemingly no longer about how fast the Samurai Blue can qualify, it’s what they can do once they get there. This time around Japan are hoping to extend their dominance beyond Asia with their first ever run past the round of 16, and they’ve got a talented squad to do it with.
WORLD CUP PROSPECTS
Japan reached the Round of 16 for the second time in their history (and first time on foreign soil) last time around, and given the talent at their disposal, there's no reason to think they can't do it again. With a tough Group D on the other side of the bracket, anything beyond that would be a bonus.
GROUP C SCHEDULE
STARS TO WATCH
Shinji Kagawa, M, Manchester United (pictured left): He’s Japan’s biggest name and one of Samurai Blue’s leaders. The creative midfielder was the 2012 Asian Football Confederation’s International Player of the Year, and some believe he should be the starting No. 10 for Manchester United. Maybe this is why.
Keisuke Honda, M, CSKA Moscow: Whether his role is as a playmaker or second striker, Honda has certainly has his moments for the Japanese national team. His star is also on the rise as he will make the move to AC Milan in January after leading CSKA to their first Russian Premier League title in seven years last season.
Shinji Okazaki, F, FSV Mainz 05: He may not garner as much foreign attention as Kagawa and Honda, but Okazaki has featured more than any other player throughout Japan’s qualifying road, scoring eight goals in 14 games.
Alberto Zaccheroni (right) is a legend in Italy, leading a number of Serie A clubs over the course of his career. He took over the Samurai Blue in 2010 and promptly led them to their fourth consecutive Asian Cup championship in 2011. But after a disappointment in the 2013 Confederations Cup, the Italian is facing some pressure heading into the World Cup with a very talented group.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 5-2-1, 17 pts. / 16 GF, 5 GA (first place in Asia’s Group B)
Japan’s relatively easy road started with a 3-0 victory against Oman and a 6-0 victory over Jordan in March and August of 2012, respectively. The Samurai Blue qualified all the way back in June after playing Australia, the second-place team in Group B, to a second 1-1 draw. Their only defeat in the group came March 26 in a 2-1 loss to Jordan in Amman.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
It took Japan awhile to get here, 10 tries to be exact before qualifying for the first time in 1998. That year, they didn’t make it out of the group stage. Their second appearance as the host country in 2002, they advanced to the round of 16, where they were defeated 1-0 by Turkey in the first knockout game. In 2006, Japan once again failed to advance out of the group stages. Paraguay knocked them out in 2010, 5-3 on penalty kicks, in their second appearance in the round of 16, which led to a famous bet made by Paraguayan model Larissa Riquelme.
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Daigo Kobayashi represented the Japanese U-20 international team at the FIFA World Youth Championship in 2003 before earning one cap for the senior national team in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago in August of 2006 … The last time the USMNT played Japan was in February 2006 in San Francisco, a 3-2 US win thanks to goals by Eddie Pope, Clint Dempsey and Taylor Twellman.