Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni
Best finish: Second rounds (2002, 2010)
World Cup record: P 17, W 4, D 4, L 9
It was a disappointing debut at France ‘98, with three defeats, but there has been progress since. A second-round finish in 2002 was a qualified success. They failed to make it out of the group stages in Germany, but made the second round again in their fourth consecutive World Cup in South Africa, beating Denmark and Cameroon before losing to Paraguay on penalties in the last 16.
The Asian champions qualified for Brazil with a settled, experienced 4-2-3-1. The creativity is in the three, where AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda dictates from the middle and Man United’s Shinji Kagawa and Mainz’s Shinji Okazaki (38 goals) support a lone striker. The midfield is anchored by Makoto Hasebe. Full-backs Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo offer forward momentum.
All Star - Keisuke Honda
Nobody can read this guy’s name without belching out a bunch of ‘engine’ puns but fear not, we’ll steer clear. Honda could hold the keys to Japan’s tournament. The Milan man is by common accord an integral part of their make-up as he shuttles between the lines directing attacks. With 20 goals in 56 caps he’s already a legend and when he’s standing over a deadball it often serves as a prelude to something special.
County Colours - Monaghan
Heavy hitters round their way, but yet to deliver on big stage.
Pundit’s Corner - Ian Wright: “Not. A. Hope, man. Not. A. Hope! Good side, though, don’t get me wrong.”
Despite being a cohesive attacking unit there were results in the qualifiers that hinted at an underlying fragility, defeats to North Korea, Uzbekistan and Jordan. They’ve drawn with the Netherlands (2-2) and beaten the highly-rated Belgians (2-3) in friendlies, but their consistency. or lack of it, may let them down inGroup C, against Ivory Coast, Colombia and Greece.
Goalkeepers: 1 Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege, Bel), 12 Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), 23 Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo).
Defenders: 2 Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04, Ger), 3 Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart, Ger), 5 Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan, Ita), 6 Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), 15 Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), 19 Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), 21 Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96, Ger), 22 Maya Yoshida (Southampton, Eng).
Midfielders: 4 Keisuke Honda (AC Milan, Ita), 7 Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), 8 Hiroshi Kiyotake (FC Nuremberg, Ger), 10 Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United, Eng), 14 Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), 16 Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), 17 Makoto Hasebe (FC Nuremberg, Ger), 20 Manabu Saito (Yokohama F Marinos).
Forwards: 9 Shinji Okazaki (Mainz, Ger), 11 Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), 13 Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale), 18 Yuya Osako (TSV Munich 1860, Ger).
JAPAN (v Ivory Coast): 1 Eiji Kawashima; 2 Atsuto Uchida, 6 Masato Morishige (yc), 22 Maya Yoshida (yc), 5 Yuto Nagatomo; 17 Makoto Hasebe (7 Yasuhito Endo, 54 mins),16 Hotaru Yamaguchi; 9 Shinji Okazaki, 4 Keisuke Honda, 10 Shinji Kagawa (11 Yoichiro Kakitani, 86 mins); 18 Yuya Osako (13 Yoshito Okubo, 67 mins).
JAPAN (v Greece): 1 Eiji Kawashima; 2 Atsuto Uchida, 22 Maya Yoshida, 15 Yasuyuki Konno, 5 Yuto Nagatomo; 16 Hotaru Yamaguchi, 17 Makoto Hasebe (yc) (7 Yasuhito Endo, half-time); 13 Yoshito Okubo, 4 Keisuke Honda, 9 Shinji Okazaki; 18 Yuya Osako (10 Shinji Kagawa, 57 mins).
JAPAN (v Colombia): 1 Eiji Kawashima; 2 Atsuto Uchida, 22 Maya Yoshida, 15 Yasuyuki Konno (yc), 5 Yuto Nagatomo; 14 Toshihiro Aoyama (16 Hotaru Yamaguchi, 62 mins), 17 Makoto Hasebe; 9 Shinji Okazaki (11 Yoichiro Kakitani, 69 mins), 4 Keisuke Honda, 10 Shinji Kagawa (8 Hiroshi Kiyotake, 85 mins); 13 Yoshito Okubo.