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The lackluster Japanese national soccer team is likely to be knocked out of the Cup early on.
Japan World Cup Team Statistics: Group E
Status: Advance to round 2, knocked out quarterfinals
World Ranking: 45
World Cup 2010 Results: 2-2-0
Total goals scored: 7
Total goals scored against: 7
Japan World Cup Schedule: June 14 - Cameroon (1-0 win); June 19 - Netherlands (0-1 loss); June 24 - Denmark (3-1 win), June 29 - Paraguay (3-5 loss).
Japan World Cup Soccer 2010
Soccer still lags well behind baseball when it comes to the national sporting passion. But since 1998, when Japan first secured a place in the international soccer tournament, “The Blue Samurai” have developed a large, enthusiastic and knowledgeable following.
Many Japanese sports fans, particularly women, have embraced soccer as a counterpoint to baseball, which they deride as the sport of “salarymen.” Soccer has also provided young Japanese with an outlet for an acceptable, even endearing form of nationalism. They wave the flag with pride, but without menace.
Indeed, the Japanese may rank — for all the familiar behaviors that appear to place them in the mainstream — as the best behaved, most polite and, ultimately, most forgiving fans. Some believe if they were less forgiving, it might ratchet up the pressure on an overly complacent team and prod it to ascend to the next level. South Africa could provide the fan test that prompts that change.
Japan World Cup History: Japan’s first World Cup qualification didn’t come until France ’98, but it hasn’t missed the tournament since. Still, it has never won a Cup game outside of Japan and only reached the second round when it hosted in 2002.
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Japan World Cup Conventional Wisdom: Japanese media are stirring up excitement about prospects in South Africa. But with two European powers and a strong African side in its group, Japan can probably book an early flight home.
Japan World Cup Team Coach: Takeshi Okada
After flopping with Brazilian coach Zico in 2006, Japan brought back Okada, who ushered the team to its first Cup a dozen years ago. Okada is popular — amiable and conscientious — but he is prone to extreme caution, even by the World Cup’s ultra-conservative standards. In France, his team packed it in on defense and surrendered only four goals — but scored just once and lost all three first-round games.
Japan World Cup Team Strength: Japan has great midfield depth, including a number of accomplished free-kick specialists. Set plays would appear to represent the team’s best shot to net some goals in South Africa.
Japan World Cup Team Weakness: Take your pick; a front line that has trouble scoring or a defense that is prone to panic under pressure. Not a winning combination.
Japan World Cup Key Player: Shunsuke Nakamura
Though he now patrols the midfield for the Yokohama F Marinos, the 31-year-old veteran can call on his considerable experience in the Italian, Scottish and Spanish leagues, where he proved deft on the ball as well as in delivering feathery passes to his teammates. (He was the first Japanese player ever to score in a Champions League contest.) Indeed Nakamura may be the sole world-class talent on the squad. With his array of sublime skills, he is capable of embarrassing opponents with his open-field moves or stunning them with his free kicks. But he is less dangerous in isolation and, with Japan, finds himself alone too often.