The team: The Asian qualifying campaign is a two-year marathon, but for Japan it was the perfect opportunity to gel as a team. Under the guidance of Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni, the Samurai Blue got better and better as they, comfortably in the end, secured their fifth successive FIFA World Cup appearance. As the reigning Asian Cup champions, and with star players such as Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa and Mainz’s Shinji Okazaki, Japan can board the plane to Brazil high in confidence.
The coach: Alberto Zaccheroni
Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni had an almost immediate impact on Japan, winning the 2011 Asian Cup within six months of taking over. While it took the team a little while to get used to his style, they’re now a slick passing outfit with a strong midfield.
Key player: Keisuke Honda
In a midfield boasting many stars plying their trade in Europe, Keisuke Honda continues to shine brightest for Japan. The AC Milan playmaker is particularly deadly from set pieces.
World ranking: 47
World Cup appearances: 4
Previous best: Round of 16 in 2002 and 2010
Qualification: Group winner
Form (qualifiers): WWDWWLDW
Fixtures: June 15 vs. Cote d’Ivoire; June 20 vs. Greece; June 25 vs. Colombia