World Cup team preview: Japan

Japan will be looking to improve on a poor showing at the 2014 World Cup, when they crashed out at the group stage after scoring just twice in their three matches.

That included defeats to Colombia and the Ivory Coast and a draw with Greece.

This time around the Japanese have been placed in a tough group which once more includes Colombia, as well as Poland and Senegal, any one of these sides potential group winners.

It will be a big challenge for manager Akira Nishino, who was given only two months to prepare for the World Cup after the dismissal of Vahid Halilhodzic.

This will be the sixth time Japan appear in the finals, with their best finishes in 2002 and 2010, when they made the last 16.

Their place in Russia was booked by winning Group B of the Asian qualifiers, just a point above Saudi Arabia and Australia, the latter making the World Cup via the play-offs.

Shinji Kagawa, the one-time Manchester United man, should be at the forefront of the Blue Samurai’s campaign, although the 29-year-old comes into the tournament on the back of a fairly average campaign with Borussia Dortmund which produced five goals and one assist in 19 league games.

However, his six goals in the qualifiers (and 30 in 92 games for Japan) show Kagawa’s importance to his national team.

He should also be ably supported by Shinji Okazaki, the 32-year-old Leicester City striker who has 50 goals for his country and scored five times in the qualifiers.

Genki Haraguchi, based in Germany with Hertha Berlin, appears a rising star after he played an important part in Fortuna Dusseldorf winning promotion to the Bundesliga on a loan spell, and he also notched five goals in the qualifiers.

While not expected to go far in Russia, Japan could well sneak into the next round if the likes of Kagawa, Okazaki and Haraguchi continue their good form in front of goal.

There was also a recent brace for Takashi Inui in a 4-2 friendly win over Paraguay, a much-needed shot of confidence after friendly defeats to Switzerland, Ghana and Ukraine before that.

Japan squad:

Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol).

Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Wataru Endo (Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers).

Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Takashi Inui (Eibar), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale).

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz).