It’s time to look at the Asian contenders who would be vying to do well at the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil. We start off with the Blue Samurai, Japan, ranked 47th in the current Fifa rankings. They would be heading into their 5th consecutive World Cup.
Alberto Zaccheroni helped Japan become the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Japan topped their final Asian qualifying round ahead of Australia and booked their tickets for Brazil by losing just one game in the final qualifying round but they needed some luck in the previous round where they were almost knocked out by un-fancied North Korea but their experience led them through. The Nippon will be looking to do better than reaching the knockout rounds where they lost to Paraguay last time around on penalties.
Japan, unlike most Asian teams has a good mix of players who play in the J-league and some whom are based in major European leagues. The squad which could head to the World Cup are listed below, again nothing is certain till a formal announcement is made.
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima, Shusaku Nishikawa, Shuichi Gonda Defenders: Yuichi Komano, Yusuyuki Konno, Yuto Nagatomo, Maya Yoshida, Masahiko Inoha, Hiroki Sakai, Gotoku Sakai, Masato Morishige Midfielders: Keisuke Honda, Yasuhito Endo, Shinji Kagawa, Hajime Hosogai, Hiroshi Kiyotake, Hotaru Yamaguchi, Manabu Saito, Toshihiro Aoyama, Makoto Hasebe Forwards: Shinji Okazaki, Yuya Osako, Masato Kudo, Yohei Toyoda
Nurnberg’s Makoto Hasebe would be leading the Blue Samurai in Brazil and they will be looking forward to a lot of their European based players to help them do well. Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki would be looking to spearhead the attack; they have scored 75 goals between them and will be looking to add more. Their midfield would be strengthened by Hotaru Yamaguchi and Toshihiro Aoyama, who both ply their trade in the J-league. At right back there is the ever reliable Nagatomo who has been doing really well at Inter Milan and Hiroki Sakai of Hannover would be the left back. Their goalkeeper would most certainly be Kawashima, who is the no 1 goalkeeper for Standard Liege of the Belgian league.
Alberto Zaccheroni is someone you would not expect to be managing an Asian team, not that there is anything wrong with him but he is Italian and that means he would be preferring defense more than attack. He has been in charge of Italian teams like Juventus and their rivals Torino, both the Milan clubs and Lazio amongst other teams, loyalties aside, he has done reasonably well with them, helping Milan win the Scudetto in 1998. He was appointed manager of Japan in August 2010 and led them to victory in the AFC Asian Cup in 2011. He is known for using an unconventional 3-4-3 formation which he has tried to adapt to the Japanese team. He has won 29 of the 51 games he has been in charge of and will be looking to guide Japan into the knock-out rounds they have been placed in.
- Keisuke Honda: The attacking midfielder is one player to look out for. Currently playing for Serie A giants AC Milan, Honda is known for his ability to score from free kicks and has great dribbling ability. He has scored 20 goals for his country in just 53 games and has been nicknamed Emperor Keisuke by the fans. He has won the Russian League with CSKA Moscow among other trophies and will be looking to win a few more individual honors; he already has 3 FIFA World Cup man of the match awards to his credit.
- Shinji Kagawa: Even with a stop start season for Manchester United, you cannot deny Shinji Kagawa is a threat against any team. Known for his movement and passing, Shinji enjoyed a couple of brilliant years at Dortmund which led to his move to Manchester. He has shone for Japan, scoring 17 times for his country and was named as Asian footballer of the year in 2012.
- Shinji Okazaki: Another Shinji who plays for Japan, Okazaki leads the forwards for the Samurai and has scored 38 goals in 73 appearances for the Nippon. He has played for a couple of German clubs, currently playing for Mainz.
Japan play with a 4-2-3-1 formation. The line is led by a front man with three attackers behind him, in most cases it is the 3 players named above, Honda, Kagawa and Okazaki. The 2 holding midfielders provide cover to the central defenders while the wing backs bomb forward to provide support to the attack. Nagatomo and Sakai are important in both attack and defense as their link up with the attacking trio will be important for Japan’s chances of success in the World Cup.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
It is pretty obvious that the strength of this Japanese team is their attack. Kagawa, Honda and Okazaki can tear apart any team on their day. The trio is an attacking force any team would love to have and dread to face. The weakness in this Japanese team is the defense. They would be without Yoshida who was doing really well for Southampton until an injury, plus their captain, Hasebe is recovering from an injury, even in the Confederations cup, the team conceded 9 goals in their 3 group games and that would be a major worry for Zaccheroni and his men.
Japan has been placed in group C which includes Columbia, Greece and the Ivory Coast. Although there are no really strong contenders for the World Cup title in this group, Japan may still find it tough to come out of the group. They might be having a great attack but Kagawa and Honda have not had the best of seasons for their clubs and the Japanese might be missing a couple of players in their midfield and defense as well before the tournament starts. Things might be a little tough for Zaccheroni and his Samurais this time around.