FIFA World Cup Special : Team talk – Japan look to reach the knockouts from a competitive group

Japan have struggled recently but can make it through to the next round from a competitive Group.

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TOKYO, JAPAN - JUNE 15: Japanese fans react after Japan is defeated during the 2014 FIFA World Cup match between Japan and Cote d'Ivoire during the public viewing event at Tokyo Dome on June 15, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Keith Tsuji/Getty Images)

We continue our “Team Talks” for Group H of the FIFA World Cup 2018, with Asian powerhouses Japan.

Team: JAPAN

Coach: Akira Nishino
Captain: Makoto Hasebe
Nickname(s): Samurai Blue
Last Qualified in 2014
Result in 2014: Eliminated in the group stages (29th overall)
Qualified as: AFC Third Round Group B Winners
Previous World Cup Appearances: (5 Times) 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014.
Best World Cup Finals Result: Round of 16 in 2002, 2010.

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Final Squad:

Eiji Kawashima, Masaaki Higashiguchi, Kosuke Nakamura, Yuto Nagatomo, Tomoaki Makino, Maya Yoshida, Hiroki Sakai, Gotoku Sakai, Gen Shoji, Wataru Endo, Naomichi Ueda, Makoto Hasebe, Keisuke Honda, Takashi Inui, Shinji Kagawa, Hotaru Yamaguchi, Genki Haraguchi, Takashi Usami, Gaku Shibasaki, Ryota Oshima, Shinji Okazaki, Yuya Osako, Yoshinori Muto.

Key Players:

1) Eiji Kawashima: 

The 35-year old goalkeeper has played in two World Cup finals after keeping the Japanese goal in 2010 and 2014. The FC Metz custodian will once again be entrusted to be the last line of defense.

2) Yuto Nagatomo: 

The former Inter defender has donned the Samurai Blue for well over 100 times, making him 7th in their all-time list. The 31-year old will be marshaling the Japanese back-line in Russia.

3) Makoto Hasebe:

The Japanese skipper will be looking to shrug off their disappointing 2014 campaign and look to lead his team to repeat and better their 2002 and 2010 performances. The Eintracht Frankfurt defensive midfielder will be the key for Japan in the defensive third.

4) Keisuke Honda: 

The former AC Milan winger is Japan’s highest scorer in World Cup history. The crafty Pachuca man is known for his on the ball control and great set piece ability. The 31-year old will surely be very crucial for Akira Nishino’s team.

5) Shinji Kagawa:

The Borussia Dortmund midfielder is surely Japan’s best player in recent times. The 2-times Bundesliga winner is a worldwide familiar name. The 29-year old will be at the heart of the Japanese build ups in Russia.

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6) Shinji Okazaki:

The 32-year old forward is the highest capped as well as the highest scorer in the current squad with 50 goals in 112 games. The 3rd highest Japanese scorer of all time is only the second player after Honda to score in 2 different world cups. The Premier League winner with Leicester City will lead the Japanese forward lines, one last time.

Recent Form:

In their last 17 matches, Japan have won 6 times, losing 7 and drawing 4. They are winless in their last 4 matches, with 3 defeats against Ukraine, Ghana, and Switzerland, after a draw against Mali in March. Their last victory came against China in December 2017.

Group matches:

Japan have been drawn in Group H alongside Colombia, Senegal, and Poland. They will play Colombia in their opening match on 19th of June, followed by Senegal and Poland on 24th and 28th June respectively.

Prediction:

Japan have progressed to the knockouts in alternate World Cups since 2002. The Group H looks very competitive with all the teams in the neck to neck conditions. With a few favorable results in the group, Japan can again make it to the knockouts.

Trivia:

Former Japanese footballing sensation Shunsuke Nakamura was known for his incredible free kicks which attained mythical status for their curves.
Asteroid 29986 Shunsuke was named in his honor.
He is the only Asian and the 6th footballer in history to have achieved this honor.

How far do you think Japan will progress this year? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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