World Cup 2018 Preview: Japan

Russia 2018 will be Japan’s sixth World Cup appearance, all of which have come consecutively since 1998. 

Nickname(s): Samurai Blue

Best Finish: Last-16 (2002, 2010)

How they qualified: The Samurai Blue finished top of a tightly-contested AFC Group B, finishing one point ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. They clinched qualification with a game to spare via a 2-0 win over the Socceroos. However, a 2-1 home defeat to the United Arab Emirates was a notable blemish on their qualification record.

Coach: Vahid Halilhodžić

Halilhodzic, who steered Algeria to the knockout phase of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, was appointed the Japan coach after replacing Javier Aguirre, who had been sacked over his involvement in a 2011 match-fixing investigation. His career spans continents which a resume which includes Raja Casablanca, where he won the CAF Champions League, and France, where he won French Manager of the year in his first season in the top flight with Lille, having won promotion the previous year. He also won the French Cup with PSG in 2004 (before they were mega rich!).

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Key Man: Shinji Okazaki

Okazaki was relatively unknown in England when he moved to Leicester but he soon became a household name when he won the English Premier League in his debut season. Prior to his stint in the East Midlands, Okazaki scored 42 goals in more than 150 appearances during his stints at VfB Stuttgart and then FSV Mainz 05 to become one of the most prolific Japanese players in the Bundesliga.

Opening fixtures:

June 19 vs Colombia

June 24 vs Senegal

June 28 vs Poland

Squad: TBD

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