WORLD CUP HISTORY: South Africa will be Japan’s fourth appearance at a World Cup. The nation has had their moments, most notably a Round of 16 spot at home in 2002, losing out to eventual third place winners Turkey. That result confirmed the ability of an underrated nation that has become a regular at the World Cup.
QUALIFICATION: It wasn’t the smoothest of qualifying runs for Japan, but finishing second in their group behind Australia produced little drama. Four wins, three draws and a loss saw Japan five points clear of their nearest challenger, but a loss and draw to Australia was a reality check as to where the team stands since the Aussies joined the Asian federation.
KEY PLAYER: Shunsuke Nakamura. In a team filled with players from Japan’s domestic league, midfield general Nakamura will need to lead by example. The former Reggina, Celtic and Espanyol free-kick specialist is now back home at Yokohama, but he has big match experience. Three years ago with Celtic, Nakamura was named Player of the Year in Scotland.
EXPECTATIONS: Japan will be in tough to advance from Group E, where the Netherlands and Denmark enter as favourites to advance. Cameroon have giant-killer status written all over them, especially playing on African soil. Advancing to the knockout phase would be a huge success for Japan, but it looks unlikely.