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SquadEdit

Goalkeepers: Shuichi Gonda (Tokyo), Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds)

Defenders: Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Masato Morishige (Tokyo), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke), Maya Yoshida (Southampton)

Midfielders: Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Makoto Hasebe (Nuremberg), Keisuke Honda (Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nuremberg), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F Marinos), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka)

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale), Yuya Osako (1860 Munich)

Japan
Edit

Team ProfileEdit

Japan are expected to fly the flag for Asia at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, with the nation viewed as a potential surprise package to reach the latter stages.

Alberto Zaccheroni's men have been pitted against Colombia, Greece and Ivory Coast in Group C.

They will be joined by South Korea and Iran at the showpiece event, together with fellow AFC qualifiers Australia, but Japan are widely seen as Asia's best hope of going deep into the tournament, and for good reason.

Japan breezed through the fourth and final round of Asian qualifying, finishing four points clear of Australia after eight games in Group B.

The Blue Samurai tasted defeat only once during the final phase of qualification, scoring 16 goals and conceding just five in eight games.

However, it was not all smooth going for Japan after a period of transition under Zaccheroni.

The Italian tactician replaced Takeshi Okada following the 2010 World Cup and his team made a strong start to the third round of qualifying, winning three of their opening four games.

Back-to-back defeats to Uzbekistan and North Korea followed, but Japan still made it through to the next round.

Zaccheroni's men then demonstrated vast improvement in the decisive stage of qualifying, with their only defeat coming against Jordan.

Japan's form has not gone unnoticed and many feel the team are in with a strong chance of improving on their progression to the round of 16 in South Africa four years ago.

Greater expectations are partially explained by an increase in the number of Japanese players impressing overseas.

More than half of Zaccheroni’s 23-man squad play their club football in Europe, with five of those - Gotoku Sakai, Hiroki Sakai, Makoto Hasebe, Hiroshi Kiyotake and Shinji Okazaki - representing Bundesliga teams.

Together with Milan’s Keisuke Honda and Manchester United playmaker Shinji Kagawa, Okazaki is likely to represent one of Japan’s primary threats in Brazil.

The latter has quickly become one of the stars of German football, scoring 15 league goals for Mainz last season, and also found the net eight times during Japan's qualifying campaign.

Team-mates Honda and Kagawa combined for nine goals between them and the attacking trio also impressed at the Confederations Cup last year.

However, if Japan are to have a chance of matching South Korea's semi-final appearance at the 2002 World Cup, they need to improve defensively.

A repeat of the sloppiness they showed at the Confederations Cup, when shipping eight goals in three games, would surely prove costly.

So the pressure will be on the likes of Atsuto Uchida, Maya Yoshida and Yuto Nagatomo – three other players based in Europe – to maintain solidity at the back.

Japan should have little trouble acclimatising to conditions in Brazil following their visit last June.

And while Zaccheroni may be appearing at his first World Cup, as either a player or coach, he boasts a wealth of top-level experience having taken charge of Italian giants Milan, Inter and Juventus earlier in his career.



Player Profile (Keisuke Honda)Edit

Position: Midfielder
Date of Birth: June 13, 1986
Club: Milan
International Debut: v Bahrain (June 22, 2008)
World Cup Appearances: 4
World Cup Goals: 2

Keisuke Honda won everything on offer in Russia, but is now finally testing himself in one of Europe's most illustrious and challenging leagues.

That is good news for Alberto Zaccheroni and Japan, who will be counting on the talented Milan midfielder to lead them past Colombia, Greece and the Ivory Coast in Group C at the FIFA World Cup.

The importance of Honda at international level was illustrated during the qualifying campaign as he found the back of the net five times in six games, with only team-mate and striker Shinji Okazaki (eight) scoring more goals.

Whether it is cutting in from the right or lining up free-kicks, Honda is a constant threat in the attacking third, as defenders in Serie A are beginning to realise.

But it has long been believed that Honda was a big fish in a small pond, starring for Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow in a league lacking the pedigree that nations such as England, Spain, Germany and Italy boast.

Honda was undoubtedly a tremendous success in Moscow, winning the Russian Premier League and two Russian Cup titles, as well as the Russian Super Cup all in the space of three years.

Although facing Zenit, Spartak Moscow and Lokomotiv Moscow does not compare to going head-to-head with the likes of Juventus, Napoli, Roma and Inter.

But Honda - who turns 28 during the World Cup - is now plying his trade in one of Europe's biggest leagues.

Honda arrived at San Siro as a free agent after his contract with CSKA expired in January.

After a slow start and two different managers, he is finally finding his feet under the guidance of Clarence Seedorf.

In a season of disappointments and transition in Milan, the Japanese star has shown glimpses of what the world can expect at football's showcase event.

Fans in South Africa also saw his potential at the 2010 World Cup.

Goals against Cameroon and Denmark helped Japan qualify from Group E alongside the Netherlands before they were beaten 5-3 on penalties against Paraguay in the last 16.

Fast forward three years and the poster boy of Japanese football showed some flashes of his brilliance at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, scoring against Italy in a thrilling 4-3 defeat in the group stages.

With international team-mate Shinji Kagawa struggling for regular game time at Manchester United, Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka) in the twilight of his career and Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nuremberg) appearing at his first World Cup, the weight of expectation will be firmly placed on Honda's shoulders.

Zaccheroni, though, expects him to cope with the pressure.

"Honda has the character and power to grab the team by the scruff of the neck," said the Italian.

The talismanic credentials of a player regarded as one of Japan's greatest exports will now be tested in Brazil. 



News SourcesEdit

http://www.japantoday.com/category/sports

Japan Times: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/soccer/

Kyodo News:http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/sports/

Japan FA official website: http://www.jfa.jp/eng/national_team/news/