Japan - a guide to the World Cup hopefuls
Japan are becoming regular competitors at the World Cup finals and they are continually improving as a football nation but they have been handed a tough group in Brazil. Pete O'Rourke examines if the Asian champions can cause a shock in South America.
Last Updated: 09/06/14 5:01pm
Japan are in their fifth consecutive World Cup finals and they have increasingly high expectations after impressing in qualifying for Brazil.
Alberto Zaccheroni's men were the first team to secure their place at the 2014 finals through the qualification process by winning the Asian Football Confederation Group B in what is the fourth round of the AFC qualifying.
A record of five wins, two draws and just one defeat saw them top the group with an impressive 16 goals in their eight matches and they are regarded as arguably the strongest Asian side going to Brazil.
Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda are the creative sparks in the Japan side and the duo will be given the task of providing the ammunition for striker Shinji Okazaki, who scored eight goals in qualifying.
Japan’s Group C fixtures:
1. Sunday June 15: - Ivory Coast v Japan – Recife (17:00)
2. Thursday June 19: Japan v Greece - Natal (23.00)
3. Tuesday June 24: Japan v Colombia – Cuiaba (21:00)
Coach: Alberto Zaccheroni
Alberto Zaccheroni has a wealth of experience having managed the likes of AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus and Lazio in his club career. The 60-year-old, who is Japan's sixth foreign head coach, has been in charge since August 2010 and has already steered his side to the 2011 Asian Cup and the 2013 East Asian Cup. Zaccheroni, who has overseen a period of transition in the Japan side, will be hoping to guide his team to at least the last 16 to match their previous best record at the World Cup.
Star man: Shinji Kagawa
Manchester United may not have seen the best of Shinji Kagawa during his time at Old Trafford, but there is no denying his importance to the Japan team. Playmaker Kagawa, who has scored a goal every three games after picking up over 50 caps, will be expected to provide the creative spark for the Japanese team at the World Cup. Japan fans will be hoping Kagawa will be able to recapture his best form at the World Cup after a below-par campaign at Old Trafford.
Tournament best: Round of 16, 2002, 2010
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Defenders: Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart).
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Makoto Hasebe (FC Nurnberg), Hiroshi Kiyotake (FC Nurnberg), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F. Marinos).
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Yuya Osako (1860 Munich), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale).
British based players: Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United)
Sky Bet odds: 150/1
Japan have qualified for every World Cup finals since 1998 and, along with Ivory Coast, are 4/1 to top their group. They reached the last 16 in South Africa in 2010 and are priced at 2/1 to equal that achievement.