Kamikazes ready for Rio battle: World Cup Preview - Japan
Japan are heading to the their sixth consecutive World cup, and will be hoping to relive some of performances from previous outings. In 2010, the Samurai Blue qualified from the group stages with impressive performances and shocked the critics with a 3-1 win over Denmark a 1-0 win over Cameroon. Eventually they lost out to Paraguay in the last 16 but will be looking to go one better this time with plenty of experience and fighting pedigree amongst their ranks.
How they qualified
Japan were handed a bye to the third round being the top ranked side in the Asian Football Confederations. They were runners up in the Group C for the third round which included an 8-0 win against the lesser known Tajikistan. The Japanese then secured their place in Rio in round four by topping the group, winning 5 games out of 8. They were helped by goals from seasoned internationals Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda, the former topped the goal scoring charts for the the qualifiers hitting the target eight times in total.
Provisional 23-man squad overview
Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Defenders: Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart)
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Makoto Hasebe (Nuremberg), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka),
Forwards: Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale), Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nuremberg), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F Marinos), Yuya Osako (1860 Munich)
The Italian gaffer has announced the provisional squad for the world cup and opted for youth with an experienced back bone. Southampton’s Maya Yoshida and Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa are the two inclusion from the Premier league. Other familiar names include AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda, Inter’s speedy left back Nagatomo. The youth contingent of the squad will led by Yoichiro Kakitani. The 24-year-old midfield man has netted an incredible 21 goals in 31 games for Cezero Osaka. He will undoubtedly be one to watch for in the World cup and could easily double or treble his stocks if he replicate his domestic form on the biggest stage.
Japan’s free flowing attacking football will definitely make them firm crowd favourites. On their day, a midfield trio of Honda, Kagawa and Okazaki can easily change the game with each one possessing watch winning qualities. Kagawa and Honda will be keen to prove a point after having mediocre seasons for their respective clubs. Their captain Mokoto Hasebe will look to play the holding role in midfield allowing the players in front the added freedom. Yasuhito Endo, Japan’s most capped player, should provide the much needed experience and quality from set pieces.
Downside of playing the attacking brand of football is that more often than not Japan are found exposed at the back. Whether or not Japan can qualify from the group stages or not will greatly depend on their back four holding their own against world class strikers such as Radamel Falcao, Jackson Martinez, Didier Drogba and the ever-green Giorgos Samaras. Alberto Zaccheroni will be hoping to inject some much needed defensive solidity at the back, a trait linked with most of the Italian’s previous teams (AC Milan and Lazio to name a few) and will rely on Yasuyuki Konno and co. to play out of their skin.
Probable starting XI
The Italian will choose to play his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation with two holding midfielders sitting in front of the back four.
Colombia will enter the tournament as favourites to qualify from Group B. The second place will be fiercely contested with Ivory Coast and Greece also looking to clinch that spot. I expect Japan to beat Greece given thier experience in the Brazilian conditions for the last years’ Confederations cup but cannot see them coping with the attacking threats of Colombia and Ivory Coast. At best, I think a third place finish in the group stages but the Kamikazes have known to spring a few upsets and definitely won’t take their defeats lying down. So don’t hold me to it.