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Will the land of sunrise look sunny in Brazil?

Saleque Sufi |
Update: 2014-05-30 23:41:00
Will the land of sunrise look sunny in Brazil?

Asia Oceania will be represented by Japan, South Korea, Australia and Iran in Brazil. Of them Australia, South Korea and Iran are in relatively difficult groups and may find things very challenging to advance from the groups. But Japan pooled with Colombia, Greece and Cote d”voire has more than even chance to advance to group of 16.

More so than any other time in their history Japan entered the 2014 world cup finals under a weight of expectation. These are not merely from their own fans but from their legion of admirers around the world. The Samurai Blue will carry the hopes of Asians in Brazil.

Japan became the first team to qualify for the competition when Keisuke Honda scored in injury time to secure a 1-1 draw against Australia. That late strike ensured they finished the group with a four point lead, and they suffered only one defeat in their entire qualifying campaign.

After a positive performance at the 2010 FIFA world cup and a dominant final round of world cup qualifying, a quarter final is seen as the benchmark for this highly talented team. The Japanese suffered just one loss during their final group participation heading into the tournament. Japan became the first team to qualify for the competition when Keisuke Honda scored in injury time to secure a 1-1 draw against Australia. That late strike ensured they finished the group with a four point lead, and they suffered only one defeat in their entire qualifying campaign.

Manager Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan’s 4th manager in their five world cup visits; is considered a legend in Italy, having managed through their leagues for 27 years. He took over the Japanese national team in 2010, introducing a hybrid 4-2-3-1/3-4-3 formation, looking to utilize Japan’s underrated attacking talent.

Whilst in Italy, Zaccheroni managed both Milan clubs, Juventus and Lazio. During this time, he won the Serie A title in 1998-1999, with an AC Milan side that contained George Weah, Leonardo and Oliver Bierhoff. So he is a manager with obvious pedigree.

For Japan to better their last-16 appearance from the previous world cup, Zaccheroni must make full use of Blue Samurai’s hugely creative forward players and the dynamism of flying fullbacks Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida.

Zaccheroni's side is preparing to take on Greece, Colombia and the Ivory Coast in a favorable draw. Although each of these teams will pose real danger to Japan's chances of making the knockout stages, the Asian representatives must be pleased to have escaped a clash with one of the pre-tournament favorites.

Japan has named their 23-man squad for this year's world cup in Brazil, with Coach Alberto Zaccheroni springing a couple of surprises ahead of the summer's festivities.

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

Defenders: Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96), Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart).

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

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Yuya Osako (TSV Munich 1860), and Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale).

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Zaccheroni's squad is the recall of Kawasaki forward Yoshito Okubo. The experienced 31-year-old, who previously represented Mallorca and Wolfsburg in Europe, has certainly made the final squad on merit.

Okubo's eight goals in 12 J-League appearances, have forced Zaccheroni into recalling the player who hasn't represented his nation in two years.

The stocky striker had featured only once during the Italian's four years in charge, a 45 minute outing in a 2012 friendly win over Iceland, despite playing all four matches at the last World Cup in South Africa under previous coach Takeshi Okada.

Toshihiro Aoyama of Sanfrecce Hiroshima will be another surprise attendee to the tournament. He has three appearances for the national side under his belt, per FIFA, and ousts the vastly more experienced Hajime Hosogai, who currently plays in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin.

Zaccheroni's squad features 12 players who represent clubs outside of Japan. Impressively, the intriguing selection is crammed full of individuals who are both experienced and looking to progress on the world stage.

Players such as Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagatomo will need to draw upon their European experiences if Japan is to advance through their group. It is extremely healthy for the J-League that almost half the squad is currently based in the national league, as scouts will undoubtedly watch on with intent.

Player to Watch

The Japanese talisman has been criminally underused for Manchester United, having signed in 2012.

Whilst at Borussia Dortmund, Kagawa was named in the Bundesliga Team of the Season; and as of last year, he was also named as the Asian International Footballer of the Year. Along with the set-piece wizard Keisuke Honda, Kagawa is Japan’s main attacking outlet, combining wonderful vision, intelligent movement, and exceptional technique.

The former Dortmund man has gained a reputation of retaining superb composure and decision-making, as well as being able to play in central midfield, on the wing and as a classic No 10.

But he is at his sparkling best ‘in the hole’, a position he’s been unable to nail down for Manchester United. For Japan, he and Honda drift between wide-right and central attacking midfield areas, making both players notoriously difficult to pick up. He could be playing to put himself in the shop window this summer

What can Samurai Blue achieve in Brazil?

Japan first qualified for FIFA world cup finals in 1998. They failed to win any game. But in 2002 and 2010 they surprised the soccer world reaching the group of 16. With quality and class of talents present Samurai Blue possesses nothing less than quarter final will please the fans. Can the land of rising sun really shine in Brazil?

BDST: 0937 HRS, MAY 31, 2014 

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