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Japan World Cup Team Guide: An ageing side will make life hard in Russia


Japan World Cup Team Guide: An ageing side will make life hard in Russia

Experience could prove a benefit but the lack of legs will be a real issue this summer.

Team strengths

Regardless of position, the Japanese players are all comfortable in possession of the ball, and they can be expected to try and play neat passing football as always. Long balls will rarely, if ever, be sent up top, and intricate build-up will instead be the order of the day.

The team has plenty of experience too, and at kick-off of their opening game against Colombia the squad will have an average age of 28.3, with 11 of the members in Russia having travelled to Brazil four years ago and five of them also having been on the plane to South Africa in 2010.

As well as having players accustomed to the high-pressure environs of the World Cup, this is the most experienced Japan squad in terms of club football as well, with 15 playing their regular football overseas (14 in Europe and Keisuke Honda in Mexico), meaning they are more than used to playing against the best players in the world.

Team weaknesses

Defensively the team is far from solid, and although they conceded the fewest goals in their final qualifying group (seven in 10 games) they have kept just one clean sheet in their 12 games since, including drawing 3-3 at home to Haiti.

Going forwards, meanwhile, they still lack a truly lethal scoring threat, with Yuya Osako (four goals in 25 Bundesliga games for Koln last season) remaining first choice and Yoshinori Muto (eight league goals in 27 for Mainz) and Shinji Okazaki (six league goals in 27 for Leicester City) the only other out-and-out centre-forwards named.

In addition, the distinct absence of youth in the squad looks like a real problem. Yosuke Ideguchi (21) and Takuma Asano (23) struck the goals that sealed Japan’s place in Russia with a 2-0 win over Australia last August, but they and Yuya Kubo (24), Shoya Nakajima (23), and Ritsu Doan (19) were all left out of the final 23, leaving the side worryingly low on impact players.

Japan to score under 2.5 goals in tournament - 2.50

Captain

Makoto Hasebe – This will be the defensive midfielder’s third World Cup, and he provides a solid, dependable presence in the centre of the park. The 34-year-old has played in Germany for a decade and won the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg back in 2009. Also capable of playing in a back three, as he has done regularly for current side Eintracht Frankfurt, wherever he is stationed his calm head will be key for the side.

Leader

Maya Yoshida – A positive, confident character who moved to VVV-Venlo in Holland at the age of 21 before transferring to Southampton two years later. He has developed into a key and popular player on the south coast, becoming the first Japanese player to have his contract renewed by a Premier League club and occasionally captaining the side. A talker in an otherwise fairly quiet team – on and off the pitch – he will relish his role as Japan’s chief motivator.

Star Player

Keisuke Honda – Remains the Samurai Blue’s standout player despite never really living up to the potential he showed after bursting onto the scene as a cocksure youngster in South Africa eight years ago – coasting through underwhelming spells at CSKA Moscow and AC Milan before pitching up at Pachuca in Mexico. Looked like he may even have been left out of the squad by previous coach Vahid Halilhodzic, but the 32-year-old has been reinstated by Akira Nishino and will now be aiming to score at his third World Cup finals.

The Manager

Akira Nishino – Nishino replaced Vahid Halilhodzic after the Bosnian was sensationally fired by the Japan Football Association in April, and as technical director – and so in effect Halilhodzic’s boss – the 63-year-old was handed the reigns on a temporary basis as the safest pair of hands available.

The former Gamba Osaka boss has looked a little unsure in the role since, cutting a reluctant figure in press conferences and seeming uncertain about which formation to use, experimenting with a three-man defence in his first game against Ghana at the end of May but reverting to a 4-2-3-1 for their next outing against Switzerland – both of which ended in 2-0 defeats.

His managerial career was kick-started by the ‘Miracle of Miami’ at the 1996 Olympics when he led Japan to a 1-0 win over Brazil, and he enjoyed plenty of success during a decade in charge of Gamba – winning every domestic title and the Asian Champions League by playing a positive and attacking style – but his later spells at Vissel Kobe and Nagoya Grampus are better best forgotten, and confidence is far from high that he can add another glorious chapter in Russia.

How far can they go?

Despite this being their sixth consecutive World Cup Japan have far from impressed on their previous finals appearances, winning just four of their 17 games – two of which were when they co-hosted in 2002 – and never making it beyond the Round of 16 (2002 and 2010).

Not many expect them to improve upon that this time around, and making it out of the group would be seen as success.

Japan to score 0 points - 8.50

 

 


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