Japanese football has continued to develop steadily since the inception of the J.League in 1993 and they have now become one of the strongest nations in the Asian Football Confederation with only South Korea and Australia being a real challenge for the Blue Samurai.

Now, with the only major success coming from a Round of 16 appearance at the 2002 World Cup on home soil, coach Takeshi Okada must be looking to at least replicate that great feat. The collective might of Cameroon, the Netherlands and Denmark, in a veritable group of death, will surely cause the Japanese great difficulty however. Not since the days of Kazuyoshi Miura has Japan had a reliable goalscorer, with only former Frankfurt man Naohiro Takahara coming close before his fall into obscurity. However, the Japanese midfield is enviable with many players that are becoming known the world over.

The Coach

Takeshi Okada (JPN)
53 years old

Takeshi Okada is a name that has been both praised and bemoaned in the Japanese media, with many criticising his selections and his tactics. A loss to Bahrain early on in the qualifying campaign had many people questioning Okada’s credentials and more than a few calling for his head. However, after a relatively successful World Cup campaign, the media have backed down and the head coach can focus on the tournament.

Replacing the ever popular Bosnian Ivica Osim was always going to be a tough act to follow: Osim suffered from heart failure shortly after Japan’s ill fated Asian Cup venture. Okada’s appointment was met by bewilderment by the Japanese media, due to his previous mediocre attempt in the 1998 World Cup, but to his credit the coach has achieved the result expected of him and led his nation to a fourth consecutive finals. Whether or not he can lead the Japanese beyond the group stages at the cup is open to debate. However, like many managers in his position, anything beyond qualification will surely be a bonus.

Players to watch

Yasuhito Endo
30 years old
Defensive Midfielder
Gamba Osaka (JPN)

The incumbent Asian Player of the Year will be pulling the strings in midfield for the Japanese. Much in the ilk of Italy’s Andrea Pirlo, Endo is a deep-lying playmaker who is absolutely deadly from set pieces. If it were not for the more senior Shunsuke Nakamura, Endo would be taking all the set pieces for Okada’s Japan. Captain at club level; expect the midfield general to stand up and be counted.



Shinji Okazaki
24 years old
Shimizu S-Pulse (JPN)

Okazaki is becoming very well regarded in Japan, enjoying success with Shimizu S-Pulse. The young striker can’t seem to stop scoring in the J.League and has backed this up with some virtuoso goalscoring performances for Japan, including a hat-trick against Togo. The Hyogo man could well be the solution to Japan’s goalscoring impotence, and although the quality opposition on offer may well stunt his prowess there is no doubt that if anyone will score from open play, it will be him. Could be a surprise package.

Makoto Hasebe
26 years old
Wolfsburg (GER)

Part of the Wolfsburg side that swiped the title in 2008/09, Hasebe had established himself as an integral cog by the season’s end. The 26-year-old has continued that progression this season and is now firmly a key player with the Wolves, showing that not all Japanese players fold in the face of European adversity. A mobile man in midfield, and one of the few Japanese players based in Europe that will feature at the World Cup, along with Russian based pocket rocket Keisuke Honda, he will be relied on to provide the punch in Japan’s midfield.

The view from Japan:

In Japan there seems to be a rift between public expectations and those of the coach, with Okada outlandishly stating the semi-finals as his goal. Of course this maybe a good target for the players to increase their hunger to put in a good shift, and to increase their confidence, but even Japanese Football Association president Junji Ogura has stated that a second round appearance would “be great” and thus a simple progression from 2006’s effort of last place in their group would be a sound achievement. Former national team star Hidetoshi Nakata has come out with the argument that in order to succeed at the highest level, the players’ mentality need to be changed. He may well have an argument as the Japanese certainly have the quality to at least match both Denmark and Cameroon.


Surely the Japanese will be aiming for at least a Round of 16 appearance, as should be the minimum expectation for all repeat offenders in the World Cup, but whether or not they can actually reach that goal is worthy of some doubt. With a squad based mostly in Japan, players will not be used to the physicality of their foreign counterparts. This is a faculty of Japanese football that has always been a problem. After facing off against confederation rivals Australia three times since their World Cup defeat in Gelsenkirchen, they have failed in every attempt to defeat the Antipodeans. Add to this a recent 3-0 drubbing to a Serbia C team, albeit with an understrength side, and the signs are not encouraging when coming up against Cameroon, the Danes and the Dutch.

Paper would suggest that the Japanese will be well out of their depth against Holland and will struggle against Cameroon and Denmark, but as the old adage goes, football isn’t won on paper.

Did you know?

Young striker Takayuki Morimoto is making waves in Serie A with Catania. The 22-year-old impressed AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato to such an extent that the Brazilian has said he believes Morimoto is the best young player in Serie A and even went as far as to compare his style with that of the legendary Ronaldo.

Group games

14/06/10: Japan  1 – 0  Cameroon     –   Bloemfontein
19/06/10: Japan  0 – 1  Holland     –   Durban
24/06/10: Japan  3 – 1  Denmark     –   Rustenburg