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World Cup 2018: Japan

 

The World Cup 2018 marks the sixth straight World Cup Japan have qualified for.

On two of the team’s previous appearances at the tournament, the national team has qualified for the round of 16. The Group H team could qualify for the knockout round. However, Japan will need to play their best football to get past Colombia, Poland and Senegal.

Japan manager Akira Nishino has only been in the job since April. Despite leading the national team to qualification, the Japan Football Association sacked previous manager Vahid Halilhodzic with just two months to go until the tournament. Halilhodzic had been Japan’s manager since 2015. Halilhodzic did not get along well with the JFA and problems continued to mount between the two sides leading to his dismissal. There are large doubts over whether Nishino can lead the team to success. Nishino was out of coaching for nearly three years before taking over the role.

Nishino has been in charge of two friendlies and both saw the Samurai Blue lose. In fact, Nishino hasn’t seen his team score a goal in the two friendlies he has overseen. Japan lost to Ghana 2-0 in May and most recently to Switzerland in a World Cup prep match by the same scoreline. The Japanese have one more friendly before the tournament starts against Paraguay. If Japan lose to the South Americans, then the team and its fans should be very worried.

Japan do have good players within their ranks. Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa is capable of creating and scoring goals from midfielder. Eintracht Frankfurt’s Makoto Hasebe is a workhorse in the defensive midfield. He can protect the team’s defence and win the ball for counter-attacks. All three forwards Nishino has selected for the World Cup play in Europe.

Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki is the highest profile of the three. He is a hard worker and has scored 50 goals in 112 national team appearances. Okazaki will play alongside Yuya Osako and Yoshinori Muto. Both are good professionals but neither have scored many international goals.

The national team’s turmoil is hard to overlook. Due to the sacking of Halilhodzic with just two months to go to the tournament and Japan’s lacklustre World Cup build up, getting through the group will be difficult. Making it even harder will be Colombia and Poland, the two sides are expected to go through. Senegal won’t be a pushover either. The African side has quality players in its ranks including Liverpool’s Sadio Mane. If Japan can reach the round of 16, it should be seen as a good performance at the World Cup.