Today, after a 5-article break to cover issues complementary to the cup’s turf action (see titles at bottom), we return to our profiles, provided in reverse alphabetical order, of the 32 teams which qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with a focus on Japan.
The Samurai Blue are participating in their seventh consecutive World Cup. They have alternated exiting at the Group Stage and at the Round of 16 since 1998 and in 2018 they came in second to Colombia in Group H, ahead of both Senegal and Poland. In Russia 2018’s Round of 16 they lost in a thriller 2-3 to Belgium.
As in everything they do, once the Japanese decided they would make the World Cup they have not failed to do so. They progressed directly to Qatar from AFC’s Third Round of qualifying in second place in Group B, one point behind Saudi Arabia.
Placed in Group E with Germany, Spain, and Costa Rica, Japan have their work cut out for them. The two European giants will likely be a level too high for the Samurai Blue and the Costa Ricans will be a tough opponent. Given only two teams progress, it will be difficult to see Japan being among the two. Japan’s home colors are patterned blue top with white shorts and blue socks and their away uniform is a white top with highlights, blue shorts with highlights, and white socks with highlights.
Japan is an island country in Asia that is a part of the Ring of Fire (the rim of the Pacific Ocean wherein volcanoes and earthquakes are plentiful) which has been inhabited for over 30,000 years. The Japanese archipelago is made up of nearly 7,000 islands, comprising 146,00 square miles, most of which are uninhabited. The four major inhabited islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku, and the country’s population is 125.5M (38% of which are over the age of 60) making Japan both the fastest aging and the 11th most populous nation on the planet.
The nation was established as an imperial dynasty in 660 BC and today is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy with its current constitution dating to 1947. Japan’s ethnicity is 98% Japanese, its language is Japanese, 90% of the population practice Shintoism as their religion, its GDP is $6.11T, its HDI score is 0.925 (very high) and its biggest city and capital, Tokyo, has the largest metropolitan city population on earth at over 38M.
Japan’s cultural heritage is globally known and widely accepted. Samples of its art, architecture, media, and literature (The Tale of Genji, published before 1021, is the world’s first novel), music, performing arts, and cuisine are to be found in just about every country on earth. The nation is a leader in scientific research and technological advances and its infrastructure is amongst the world’s best.
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers— Kawashima Eiji (RC Strasbourg), Gonda Shuichi (Portimonense), and Schmidt Daniel (Sint-Truidense V.V.); Defenders—Nagatomo Yuto (Galatasaray), Yoshida Maya (Southampton), Sakai Hiroki (Olympique de Marseille), Ueda Naomichi (Cercle Brugge), Anzai Koki (Portimonense), Hatanaka Shinnosuke (Yokohama F), and Tomiyasu Takehiro (Bologna); Midfielders— Haraguchi Genki (Hannover), Shibasaki Gaku (Deportivo de La Coruna), Endo Wataru (VfB Stuttgart), Ito Junya (KRC Genk), Hashimoto Kento (F.C. Tokyo), Nakajima Shoya ( Porto), Minamino Takumi (Red Bull Salzburg), Itakura Kou (FC Groningen), Doan Ritsu (PSV Eindhoven) and Kubo Takefusa (Mallorca); Strikers—Nagai Kensuke (F.C. Tokyo), Asano Takuma (Partizan Belgrade), and Kamada Daichi (Eintracht Frankfurt).
Path to Qatar
Japan was seeded atop Group F in Round Two of CAF qualifiers and won all of their games, amassing a +44-goal differential and leaving their weak opponents—Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Mongolia, and Myanmar—gasping for air. They then moved on to the Third Round where they were placed in Group B with Saudi Arabia, Australia, Oman, China, and Vietnam and they came in second to the Saudis, progressing from there directly to Qatar.
Japan, ranked 24th in the world by FIFA, uses a 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders and a single striker up front supported by three forward-leaning striker-midfielders and offensive-tilting defensive wingers. The team is solid defensively and likes to attack on the counter to exploit their team speed, which will serve them well against their World Cup Group’s stronger opposition. Having started poorly in AFC qualifiers Japan needed to run the table thereafter and they did just that, so pressure is something they have shown they can handle. This added trait will serve them well in Group E.
Japan has the potential to play spoilers if they bring their A-game on a day when their betters do not. The problem for coach Hajime Moriyasu is whether he will have his best players ready (and some of his starters have unfortunately had a dip in form—such as Yuya Osako who has not been himself since the qualifiers which ended six months ago, and starlet Takefusa Kubo who has been spotty all year long). If they are in form this tough group could become the cup’s group of death.
Aside from the two mentioned above, Junya Ito, Genki Haraguchi, Kaoru Mitoma, and Takumi Minamino are team standard bearers. The key for coach Moriyasu will be to meld youngsters challenging for starting positions with veterans who may have already earned them but have not been in top form as the cup approaches.
Group and Tourney Prospects
Japan will be hard put to progress from a group with two tournament favorites and past cup winners in Germany and Spain. Should they pull a miracle and upset one of the two to advance in second place, they would most likely have a rematch against Belgium in the Round of 16 and that would be a game to savor.
Photo: Takefusa Kubo, Shutterstock ID 2112076367, by Saolab Press
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