15-June Ivory Coast (2am GMT Recife)
19-June Mexico (11pm GMT Natal)
24-June Cameroon (9pm GMT Cuiaba)
Japan punched their ticket to Brazil before anyone else and, as Lorenzo Vicini argues, they should not be underestimated.
Coach: Alberto Zaccheroni
Alberto Zaccheroni was appointed as Japan’s Coach in 2010 and has achieved continual success since taking over. He became the first Italian boss to win a trophy as the head of a foreign national team when Japan won the Asian Cup in 2011 and was given an honorary title of ‘Son of Japan’ for the achievement. Zac, as he’s known, has put together an entertaining, attacking side that is aiming to make headlines in Brazil.
Why they could be dangerous
Japan has shown they can hold their own against some of the best countries in the world, with victories against Argentina and Belgium and an impressive draw against the Netherlands. The team possesses a variety of weapons such as the underrated Yasuhito Endo to the familiar names of Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda and the lesser-known Shinji Okazaki. Depth may not be their strongest suit, but Japan has a solid starting XI that will punish opponents who look past them.
The world on his shoulders: Keisuke Honda
When Honda secured a January transfer away from CSKA Moscow to Milan, he arrived at the biggest club of his career. The move helped prepare the 27-year-old playmaker for what was in store this summer on an even bigger stage. This is Honda’s Japan and he is expected to make things click from the midfield. Through his excellent pace and silky dribbling, Honda can make things happen at any moment. Japan will need his calming presence to help the side advance.
Did you know?
Japan will be appearing in their fifth straight World Cup and were the first country to qualify for the tournament outside of the host nation. Prior to 1998, Japan had never played in the competition, failing to qualify in nine previous attempts. Japan has never made it past the Round of 16.
Country legend: Kunishige Kamamoto
Kunishige Kamamoto was the epitome of Japanese football for over a decade. A pure striker, Kamamoto holds the mark as Japan’s top international scorer by an astounding margin with 80 goals in 84 matches. He was a superstar who led an unheralded Japanese team to the bronze medal in the 1968 Summer Olympics. Boasting unusual size for a Japanese striker, Kamamoto maintained an impeccable approach in his technique and enjoyed an impressive domestic career, scoring 202 goals in 251 appearances.
Despite Alberto Zaccheroni’s historical penchant for a 3-4-3, it seems that the Italian believes Japan is best suited to operate with a 4-2-3-1. With a wealth of attacking options, Japan will look to consistently press forward in order to compensate for a weaker back line. That should not be difficult as the trio of Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki possess the creativity and pace to give their group opponents plenty of trouble.
…Colombia P2 W0 D1 L1 F0 A1
…Greece P1 W1 D0 L0 F1 A0
…Ivory Coast P3 W2 D0 L1 F2 A2
Population: 127.6 million
World Cup appearances: 4
Best finish: Round of 16, Japan/South Korea 2002 and South Africa 2010
Famous for: Making history in the 2002 World Cup by winning their group and making it into the second round where they would lose to eventual third-place finishers Turkey.
Top Division: J-League Division 1
How they got to the World Cup: Finished first in Asia Group B on 17 points, four more than second place Australia.
FIFA World Ranking: 47
Last World Cup Appearance: South Africa 2010 – Lost in the Round of 16 to Paraguay in a penalty shoot-out.
Continental Honours: Asian Cup Champions (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011)
Most Capped Player: Yashuhito Endo (141 Caps)
Leading International Scorer: Kunishige Kamamoto (80 Goals)
Nickname: Samurai Blue