Japan make Brazil – but can they make an impact?

A few weeks back Japan booked their place in next summers World Cup in Brazil with a point against Australia – the aim now will be to build upon on an impressive effort of reaching the knock out stages last term.

This marks the fifth successive tournament that the Japanese have qualified for, although it was not until they co hosted the tournament  in 2002 that their football really started to kickoff. Prior to that they had failed to pick up a point in their only previous world cup experience four years earlier – yet as hosts they progressed unexpectedly to the knock out stages. Whilst four years later they struggled to get near to those achievements, they bettered them in South Africa – progressing to the knock out stages before losing to Paraguay on penalties.

With the J League continuing to blossom and public interest in the game ever growing expectations will again be high, particularly given the success of three years ago. Asian football is without question developing at a rapid rate and the this is highlighted by the fact that both Japan and South Korea progressed from their groups last term and both could be classed as unlucky not to make the last eight. Given this rise their will be many hoping the Japanese can move to the next level – that said those individuals would be well reminded to keep their feet on the ground. The initial aim at least for now should be to escape the first round and then to see what happens, after all we have seen so many nations who big things have been expected of fall at the first hurdle.

That said this is as good of a group as we have encountered from Japan, with the 15 members of the squad currently playing their trade in Europe highlighting how far they have risen over the last ten years as a nation. Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa offer really quality in the midfield areas, with the former being an integral figure to everything that has been good about Japanese football over the past few years. Further to this they have a strong core of players (8) plying their trade in Germany – a league considered by many to be the best in the world right now. The most notable of these being captain Makoto Hasebe, Striker Shinji Okazaki of Stuttgart and centre back Atsuto Uchida of Schalke. Along with the talent mentioned above it is also worth signalling out Inter fullback Yuto Nagatomo, who has drawn many plaudits for his efforts in Serie A.

What further helps their cause is that this a team which have vast experience on their side but still have youth on their side with the squad full of caps yet still relatively young in age – with that in mind this is a squad that knows each other inside out.  Along with this a large proportion of this squad were present in South Africa and the experience of that success should aid them well in Brazil. Further to this manager Alberto Zaccheroni brings experience in vast supply whilst having worked with the side since 2010 he has strong understands of both the Japanese Pysche and logistics of the squad.

Qualification has provided no real stumbling blocks, as it probably shouldn’t given the gulf in talent between Japan and the majority of nations they have faced. This summers Confederations Cup though will represent a much sterner test and should give the Japanese a clearer indication of where they are at prior to the world cup, given consistently winning Asian qualifiers can lead to false opinions and at times complacency. Further to this the opportunity to compete against quality opposition should prove a real benefit prior the World Cup – with their qualification not always able to provide such a challenge.

Undoubtedly Japan are one of the fastest growing powers in world football and you only have to compare their current squad to that of four years ago for evidence of this. Providing they are not dealt a killer hand when the draw is made (which there is always the possibility for given how the draw is made), they have every right to be confident of progressing to the knock stages and whilst an expectant public might want more such a result would represent a satisfactory result for Zaccheroni’s men.