Japan finished second to Australia in the Asian qualifying group, beating Bahrain, Qatar and Uzbekistan on their way. Things won’t be quite so straightforward for them in the opening stages of the competition, however. Group E contains Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon, making Japan easy pickings for their competitors and giving them little hope of making it to the next round. Relative newcomers to the big event, South Africa 2010 will mark the Samurai Blues’ fourth appearance at the FIFA World Cup. While they’ve never got passed the second round (they finished ninth out of 16 when they hosted the event in 2002), they are nonetheless considered one of Asia’s strongest footballing forces.
After years of experimenting with foreign managers, the Samurai Blues offered Takeshi Okada another kick of the ball. He previously managed the national team in France ’98, where they made their first ever FIFA World Cup appearance.
Player to watch
Nakamura is a lithe attacking midfielder in the Joe Cole mould (only taller). Able to turn the game on its head in the blink of an eye, the former Celtic star now plies his trade with Espanyol.
We’re on the ball
World Cup appearances: 4
Previous best: Last 16, 2002
Odds of winning: 250/1
Strange but true: Japan’s best-known footballer, Hidetoshi Nakata, retired (without injury) at the tender age of 29
Fixtures: Cameroon, June 14, 6pm, Bloemfontein Netherlands, June 19, 3.30pm, Durban Denmark, June 24, 10.30pm, Rustenburg