Japan Team Fact Box

2010-05-11 14:12
Previous appearances in finals: 3

Nickname: Samurai Blue

Best performance: Last 16 2002

Coach:
Takeshi Okada, in his second spell after taking Japan to their first finals in 1998. Took charge again in December 2007 after Bosnian Ivica Osim suffered a life-threatening stroke. Came under early criticism after some indifferent performances before securing World Cup qualification.

Captain:
Yuji Nakazawa

Key players:

Shunsuke Nakamura
Age: 31
Position: Midfield
Club: Espanyol
FIFA World Cup Finals appearances: 3 (2006)
Goals: 1

Japan's most recognisable player since Hidetoshi Nakata's retirement after the 2006 World Cup, Nakamura is a former Scottish Footballer of the Year and a real threat from set pieces. Former coach Philippe Troussier's decision to drop him from his 2002 World Cup squad triggered a national outcry but he was unable to help a poor Japan side at the 2006 finals in Germany under Brazilian Zico.

Shinji Okazaki
Age: 23
Position: Striker
Club: Shimizu S-Pulse
FIFA World Cup Qualifier appearances: 1 (2010)
Goals: 1

The diminutive forward could do no wrong in 2009, establishing himself as Japan's frontline striker with 15 goals in 20 internationals. An instinctive finisher with quick feet, he could be a handful for defenders at the World Cup if his confidence is high.

Yuji Nakazawa
Age: 32
Position: Defender
Club: Yokohama F-Marinos
FIFA World Cup Finals appearances: 3 (2006)
Goals: 0

The Japan captain was persuaded out of international retirement after Japan's quick exit from the 2006 World Cup. A no-nonsense centre-back, strong in the air and a danger from set pieces.

FIFA world ranking May 2010: 40

How they qualified: Japan became the first team to qualify alongside hosts South Africa after beating Uzbekistan 1-0 in Tashkent in early June. Okazaki's ninth-minute goal proved the winner and ensured the "Blue Samurai" returned to a heroes' welcome.

Prospects: Despite the relative comfort of their qualification, Japan coach Okada's stated goal of a semi-final place looks fanciful. Given a kind draw, Japan could force their way into the last 16, but they are still some way short of the 2002 side coached by enigmatic Frenchman Troussier.

World Cup 2010 Squad

Goalkeepers: Seigo Narazaki (Nagoya Grampus), Eiji Kawashima (Kawasaki Frontale), Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (Jubilo Iwata)

Defenders: Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama Marinos), Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Nagoya Grampus), Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Daiki Iwamasa (Kashima Antlers), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Atsuto Uchida (Kashima Antlers)

Midfielders: Shunsuke Nakamura (Yokohama Marinos), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Junichi Inamoto (Kawasaki Frontale), Yuki Abe (Urawa Red Diamonds), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg/GER), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow/RUS), Daisuke Matsui (Grenoble/FRA)

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse), Keiji Tamada (Nagoya Grampus), Yasuhito Okubo (Vissel Kobe), Kisho Yano (Albirex Niigata), Takayuki Morimoto (Catania/ITA)


Shunsuke Nakamura vies for possession with Ghana's Michael Essien during a friendly in Utrecht in 2009. (AFP)

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