May 17, 2006
Random World Cup Facts: Japan
Times Qualified: 3
Best Finish: 2nd Round (2002)
YouTube Goal: Takayuki Suzuki scores an equaliser against Belgium in the 2002 Group Stage.
Top Political Issue in Japan: Japan continues to be pressured by its neighbors to express enough remorse and regret for its militant past. This comes in the face of territorial disputes with South Korea and China over resource rich areas.
Football in Japan: The Japanese national team has only had success in the last 15 years, when the game became professional. Japan has claimed three of the last four Asian Cups and had their best World Cup performance as joint hosts four years ago.
The J-League has been an important in increasing the level of play for the national team. The league has put an important emphasis on style of play with most teams using their allocation of foreign players on Brazilians. In fact what this has done is make good defenders a valuable commodity in the league and they are paid wages comparable to a mid-level European side.
The national team has evolved over the past two decades. Before, it was largely made up of naturalized Brazilians who could hardly compete at the global stage. Now, there is only one foreign born player in the squad. Attacking players generally go abroad to increase their chances of playing for the national team, while defenders stay in the J-League because they are too expensive to sign, and the effect is obvious in the makeup of the squad.
Players to Watch: Brazilian born Alex (Urawa Reds) has been a part of the Japan setup for many years and he will have to play well to stop play down the wing. Naohiro Takahara (Hamburg) has had trouble scoring goals like every other Japanese forward in the squad, but he will likely feature as a lone striker.
Chances: Zico may pull a page out of the book of Steve Sampson by deploying a 3-6-1 formation. We know how that worked out last time.
Prediction: Japan will struggle to score at all. Fourth in the group looks most likely.