Japan make their seventh appearance at the World Cup after finishing second behind Saudi Arabia in qualifying. Japan lost two of their first three games after a shaky start, but Hajime Moriyasu’s team rebounded impressively to finish with seven victories and a draw from their 10 qualifiers. After strong showings in their September friendly, in which they defeated the USA 2-0 and then held Ecuador to a scoreless draw, Japan went to Qatar with added confidence. On November 17, they will play their final exhibition game in Dubai versus Canada.
Japan nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the previous World Cup when they led Belgium 2-0 in the round of 16. However, a miraculous second-half comeback that culminated in a thrilling 94th-minute winner from Nacer Chadli dashed any chances of reaching a first World Cup quarterfinal. The Samurai Blue were drawn in a group alongside 2014 quarterfinalists Costa Rica, 2010 winners Spain, and four-time winners Germany. If the Samurai Blue are to advance through their group this winter, they will have to see through a shock or two.
There is no doubt that Japan poses an offensive danger to its adversaries in Qatar. Takumi Minamino, a former attacking midfielder for Liverpool, will be at the center of this, with assistance from Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda of Celtic, Daichi Kamada of Eintracht Frankfurt, and Takefusa Kubo of Real Sociedad. Wataru Endo of Stuttgart and Hidemasa Morita of Sporting Lisbon were the central midfield combination in Japan’s 2-0 victory over the USA, replacing Celtic’s Reo Hatate, despite Hatate’s being in the squad.
Yuto Nagatomo, a former Inter Milan fullback, and Maya Yoshida, a current Schalke centre-back, both have experience playing defense for the Samurai Blue. Takehiro Tomiyasu of Arsenal is their outstanding defender, though. The 23-year-old may not have started for the Gunners, but he will be one of the first names on Moriyasu’s squad sheet, where he will probably play at left center-back.
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