Japan, first to qualify - hopefully not first to leave (Team Profile)

December 2nd, 2009 - 6:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Tokyo, Dec 2 (DPA) On June 6 this year, Japan became the first country to qualify for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa when they won 1-0 in Uzbekistan.
With two games to go in the Asian qualifying campaign the victory ensured Japan a top-two finish in Group 1 and an automatic qualifying place.

Fans are now hoping that it will not be a case of: “First to come, first to leave” for Takeshi Okada’s team in South Africa next year.

But to progress beyond the first round the team will have to make history - becoming the first Japanese team at the finals of the World Cup to win a game away from home.

Although Japan has played at three finals and has won two of the 10 games they played in the process, both of those victories (1-0 against Russia and 2-0 against Tunisia) were achieved playing at home during the 2002 finals which they co-hosted with South Korea.

The majority of Okada’s squad are based in Japan, with midfielders Shunsuke Nakamura (Espanyol), Junichi Inamoto (Rennes), Daisuke Matsui (Grenoble Foot 38), Makoto Hasebe (VfL Wolfsburg) and Keisuke Honda (VVV-Venlo), as well as Catania striker Takayuki Morimoto the notable exceptions.

Other stalwarts in the side include captain Yuji Nakazawa, who marshals the defence and is looking forward to playing at his second World Cup finals.

Okada, who traveled to South Africa for a friendly against the hosts in early November and returned to Asia after a goalless draw, has set an ambitious goal for the team, saying he believes they can make the semi-finals.

“We’ve got tougher as a team and moved forward little by little in the past year. We may not look brilliant but we have more stable strength,” he said after the game against South Africa.

The one area that fans are worried about is the front line, where the strikers have not managed to find the net with the regularity required from a team looking for a place in the semi-finals of the World Cup.

They are now pinning their hopes on Serie A-based Morimoto. Although only 21, the striker has already played well over 40 teams for Catania and scored once in his two games for Japan.

Brazilian international Pato recently described Morimoto as the best young player in the Serie A and Japanese fans are hoping he can bring his skills to the national team.

As a base in South Africa the Japanese football federation has chosen the Fancourt hotel in George on the beautiful Garden Route.

The president of the federation Motoaki Inukai said he hopes that Fancourt will prove a lucky omen for the side as Rui Kitada and Ai Miyazato won the Womens World Cup of Golf on the Fancourt golf course.

There are many who believe though that the team will need much more than a lucky omen to achieve their ambitious goals.

The Coach:

Former international Takeshi Okada took over the national team after Croatian Ivica Osim suffered a stroke and could no longer continue as national team coach.

Okada, who won the J. League and the Asian Club Championship as coach, was also in charge of the Japanese side at the 1998 World Cup finals, when they lost all three games.

The Star:

Although heading towards the end of his career, Shunsuke Nakamura still remains the best-known current international. The 31-year-old, who currently plays for Espanyol Barcelona in the La Liga, can also look back at successful stints with Serie A club Reggina and Scotish giants Celtic.

He is the top scorer amongst the current internationals, having scored 24 goals in his 93 games and he is now hoping to be able to get his 100th cap at the World Cup finals in South Africa next year.


Nicknames: Japanese Representatives (of soccer), (Sakka) Nippon Daihyo, Okada

Japan, Blue Samurai

Founded: 1921

FIFA affiliation: 1929

Highest FIFA ranking: 9 - February 1998

Lowest FIFA ranking: 62 - February 2000

Previous World Cup appearances: 3 (1998, 2002, 2006)

Best World Cup performance: Round of 16 (2002)

Date qualified for finals: June 6, 2009

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