In the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Japan shocked the world when they emerged from an incredibly tough group featuring the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon. They finished second, beating both Denmark and Cameroon and losing to eventual finalist the Netherlands. A spirited performance against Paraguay would see them bow out in the Round of 16 in a penalty shoot out loss, but their performance four years ago signaled that Asian football was not just a blip on the radar in 2002.
In a group that is populated by defensively resilient Greece, physically imposing and athletic Ivory Coast, and potential tournament dark-horse Colombia, Japan yet again must prove their metal in a deceptively tough group. Japan are blessed with technically gifted players in the mold of Keisuke Honda, Yasuhito Endo, Shinji Kagawa and Hiroshi Kiyotake. Japan also benefits from a strong core of veteran players and an understanding amongst the squad as a whole that transcends the weaknesses they do have, mainly their lack of a physical presence. However, Japanese players have begun to filter into top European leagues in the last few years and they do have a solid number of players plying their trade in not only England, but in Germany as well – their experience gained could prove vital this summer.
Here is the 23-man squad that coach Alberto Zaccheroni has called upon to potentially cause shockwaves on the international stage yet again – surely Manchester United’s Kagawa and Southampton’s Yoshida will be key to any potential run the Blue Samurai are intending to make:
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima, Shusaku Nishikawa, Shuichi Gonda
Defenders: Masahiko Inoha, Yutu Nagamoto, Aysuto Uchida,Maya Yoshida, Yasuyuki Konno, Masato Morishige, Gotoku Sakai, Hiroku Sakai
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo, Hotaru Yamaguchi, Makoto Hasebe, Toshihiro Aoyama, Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, Hiroshi Kiyotake.
Strikers: Shinji Okazaki, Yoshito Okubo, Yuya Osako