GROUP C
Japan

THE 60-SECOND OVERVIEW

Japan waited a long time to get to the World Cup, but since 1998 have become regulars and now are recognised as the best team in Asia. Alberto Zaccheroni took over a team that was within a penalty shootout of the quarter-finals of World Cup in 2010, and he has improved it.

Settled, smooth and well-organised, the Samurai Blue also display a tactical flexibility that is rare in Asian outfits. Full of stars playing in Europe, Japan breezed through qualification and have been taking on, and often beating, some of the best teams around.

THE DREAM

Injuries to captain Makoto Hasebe and main centre-back Maya Yoshida clear up well before the team jets to Brazil – and with club appearances sporadic, star attackers Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda are fresh, fit and desperate to prove a point.

Under-rated attacker Shinji Okazaki carries on his great form for Mainz, Japan develop a ruthless edge in front of goal that is sometimes lacking and the soft centre at the back holds firm. The group is far from intimidating, but tough enough to ensure Japan enter the knockout stage in top gear where, on their day, they are a match for anyone.

THE NIGHTMARE

Hasebe and Yoshida don’t recover in time; Kagawa and Honda are low on confidence and sharpness after a stop-start domestic season. Zaccheroni’s settled side starts to look undercooked as the replacements are not match fit.

The final game against a tricky Colombia team could be crucial and Japan have never beaten South American opposition at the World Cup – losing to Argentina in 1998, Brazil in 2006 and being eliminated by Paraguay in 2010. Nervousness sets in; they crash out.

THE STATS
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DID YOU KNOW?

Japan are the best around AT qualifying for the World Cup: they have been the first to book their berth on the last three occasions.

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Confident, organised and in form, Japan are tournament regulars ready to impress. If key men are fit and firing they could do very well.