The Full 90

2010 World Cup Preview: Japan

To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.We're at the half-way point of the team previews. Sixteen down, sixteen to go. Onto the "other" Asian team...

Japan

Group E THE BASICS

Nickname:

Blue Samurai



Colors:

Blue, White, Red



FIFA Ranking:

45



How They Got Here:

Finished second to Australia in their Asian qualifying group, only losing once



World Cup Pedigree:

3 World Cups ('98, '02, '06), reached second round only when co-hosting in 2002

THE PLOT

Can a team that prides itself on teamwork and unity lift its country beyond "just happy to be here" status and toward "consistently pushing for the knock-out stage" status at this level?

THE DIRECTOR

Takeshi Okada

Okada has World Cup experience, having coached Japan in the 1998 World Cup. Too bad it was a three-and-out for the Blue Samurai in France. He was replaced for the 2002 World Cup the country co-hosted by Brazilian coach Zico. It was the team's most successful tournament.

LEADING MAN

Shunsuke Nakamura

The free-kick master is Japan's most famous player and the player most likely to put them on the scoreboard. He's a winger who spent time with Celtic and Espanyol before a February transfer to Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan. He's not getting any younger, but he's fast and creative and, as I said before, a free-kick master.

SUPPORTING CAST

Keisuke Honda

(midfielder/left back, CSKA Moscow) is known for his goal-scoring and his free-kick ability, making him the 24-year-old heir apparent to Nakamura;

Yuji Nakazawa

(defender, Yokohama F. Marinos) is the team's captain is nicknamed "The Bomber";

Marcus Tulio Tanaka

(defender, Urawa Red Diamonds) was born in Brazil and became a Japanese citizen when he was 15 and is very good in the air;

Makoto Hasebe

(midfielder, Wolfsburg) will be the engine that runs the Blue Samurai's midfield.

LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR

Shinji Okazaki

The Shimizu S-Pulse striker scored 15 goals in his first 20 appearances for the Blue Samurai. Unfortunately, due to tradition, Okazaki won't start (he's only 24) even though he's far better than his elder forward Keiji Tamada.

THE LIKELY VILLAIN

Honda goes against Japanese convention: He's more of an individualist and goal-scorer, but for country he's asked to be a defensive player. If he goes all out for a goal and leaves his defensive post and Japan's allows a goal, expect to hear the collective groan of the fans and an early hook from the coach.

PRODUCTION NOTES

The team will pass a lot and look to dominate possession, and they'll do likely with a 4-5-1. They won't do a lot in the air and will prefer to play it to feet most of the time.

WHAT THEY'LL WEAR

IT'S SORTA LIKE...

The Next Karate Kid

Some things are the same (Pat Morita, Okada), but the new things (Hilary Swank, a group with the Netherlands, Cameroon AND Denmark) aren't an improvement.

TRAILER

I have no idea what's going on in this song, but I find it unintentionally hilarious.

DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...

In one English translation of the Japanese national anthem, "Kimigayo," there are only 19 words. Talk about efficiency.

CRITICAL BLURBS

It's just not enough anymore for Japan to just qualify. They, like the United States, have reached the point in their footballing life where the knock-out phase should be the goal. ... However, this is probably not a group they can survive. Denmark and Holland also play possession football, and both are more talented. Cameroon is a physical team, Japan is the exact opposite. Having said that, a victory against any is not out of the question. Just unlikely. ... With Nakamura and Honda, the Blue Samurai are the best bet to score on a free kick in the entire tournament. ...

Best-case scenario:

Nipping a win over Denmark and drawing Cameroon, with a loss in the second-round. ...

Realistic prediction:

Playing Cameroon and Denmark tight, but losing all three games.

POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT

June 24. Nearing the end of the first half of play. Denmark 0, Japan 0. Shunsuke Nakamura has the ball lined up about 35 yards out of goal. A goal would separate them from Denmark not only in this game, but in the standings as well. A Netherlands win would eliminate Cameroon and the winner of this game takes second place alone. Nakamura leans into the kick, bending it over the wall of Danes, under the cross bar and over the outstretched hands of the keeper. The team mobs him at the byline. Japan closes up shop in the second half. Holland beats Cameroon. A nation rejoices.


Group A: South Africa

,

Uruguay

,

Mexico

,

France

Group B: South Korea

,

Greece

,

Nigeria

,

Argentina

Group C: Algeria

,

Slovenia

,

USA

,

England

Group D: Serbia

,

Australia

,

Ghana

,

Germany

Group E:

Japan, Cameroon, Denmark, Netherlands



Group F:

New Zealand, Slovakia, Paraguay, Italy



Group G:

North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil



Group H:

Honduras, Chile, Switzerland, Spain


Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook
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