Outright odds: 200/1
To win group: 9/2
To qualify: 5/4
Full squad: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96), Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Makoto Hasebe (FC Nuremberg), Hiroshi Kiyotake (FC Nuremberg), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F Marinos), Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Yuya Osako (TSV Munich 1860), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale)
Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni
World Cup record: Last 16 (2002, 2010), Group stage (1998, 2006)
One of the notable features of the last few years has been the rise of Asian football and Japan have been at the forefront of that advancement with knockout football having been delivered in 2002 and 2010, and the Blue Samurai are not without their chances of doing the same again here even with a tough section.
2011 Asian Cup winners under their new boss in fine style, Japan when topping a weak qualifying section – second placed Australia qualified but the rest of the group was Jordan, Oman and Iraq – although they were better than scrambling through second in Group C of the third round in Asian qualifying (drawn with Uzbekistan, North Korea and Tajikistan in Group C and only scrambled through after finishing second behind Uzbekistan.)
And qualification hopes were further dampened when they exited the 2013 Confederations Cup here pointless after expected defeats to Brazil and Italy but also a last game loss to Mexico leaving them eliminated at the first stage. There Japan scored 4 goals – including three in a thriller against Italy – but let in 9 in just those three games and were left to bemoan wasteful finishing against Mexico especially as a number of good chances went before they went 2-0 down.
And it’s the defence again that will be their main worry. Inter left back Yugo Nagatomo has worked his way into the side and made both left back spot his own for club and country and Asututo Youchida has done likewise, but Yasusuki Konno and Maya Yoshida have consistently looked vulnerable to pace and movement, as shown by the Confederations Cup.
Going forward, however, Japan are impressive. Yuya Okasako– who scored 15 goals for 1860 Munich in Germany this season – is supplied excellently by the high quality attacking trio of Shinji Kagawa, a rare bright spot for Manchester United this season, Kezuke Honda, who scored 5 in qualifying and will be in his favoured central pivot role, impressed in flashes having moved towards Milan after singing midway through the season, while Shinji Ozakai bagged 15 league goals for Mainz in the Bundesliga.
Makoto Hasebe and Yashiuto Endo haven’t gotten a whole lot o match practice between them this season in midfield, which is a worry – as is a recurrence of their injuries – but Japan are likely to be a threat to all going on the offensive and getting out of the group is a possibility.