Japan is slated to make a tentative entry in the 2018 World Cup, with the team falling down to the marginal groups of the competition. The national team will be heading to Russia under the leadership of a new coach, Akira Nashino.
Mr Nashino is a former JFA technical director who has replaced the former manager, Vahid Halihodzic over controversy. Mr Nashino is now preparing the team to debut in the World Cup, and he has already hinted on whom he pins his hopes, specifically Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.
Japan Kicks Off at the Wrong Foot
Japan played its first game with the new coach against Ghana on Wednesday. The team suffered a defeat, with two goals landing in their own post, and again reiterating the inherent difficulties Japanese football has faced for years.Japan is slated to play with Colombia, Senegal, and Poland in Group H of the upcoming FIFA World Cup.
Mr Nashino is now hopeful that he will manage to channel the experience of key players, such as Shinji Okazaki who has been playing in Leicester City and distinguishing himself by clinching the Premier League as part of the team. Another player that promises to tilt the balance back in Japan’s favor is Yuto Nagatomo, a strong defender. He will be joined by Maya Yoshida at the bulwarks.
Mr Nashino has conceded that choosing which 23 players to pick has not been easy, and he had to also handle the fallout with the previous trainer. Despite the pressing deadlines, Mr Nashino has remained positive about his selection, confident of his choice of a strong overall team.
Japan to Progress through the Group Stage
For the time being the Blue Samurai hopes to make a splash in the group stag. Defeating its opponents and progressing to the next stage of the competition is the main objective here. It will certainly be a tall order. Japan has managed to qualify for the world championships in six successive World Cups. However, they have been quickly defeated in the first leg of the competitions.
The country managed to qualify and be among the last 16 in 2010 and when it co-hosted the games in 2002. The hopes are that with the removal of Halilhozdic, the team will manage to improve upon its communication and progress into the group stages.
After the Fallout
Now that Halihozdic is out of the picture, this leaves hopes that Japan will manage to coordinate better. Okazaki and Kagawa are returning to the team. Rumours have it it’s precisely because the coach has been removed.
Still the team’s track record may be difficult to amend. Why? The nationals have lost the last four games they played. This may be a damning track record. Still, the World Cup is sufficient opportunity for the team to rise. It may be a turning point indeed.
Hopes are that the new leadership will inspire the much needed changes over the short period of time between now and 12 June, and Japan will open strongly in the group stages. With a few victories, the team may be speed tracked to the next round of the competition. There, it will be facing stronger opponents.
Even then, fortune may still favour Japan, and the game could end up avoiding the likes of Germany, France or Brazil. If another ‘weaker’ team ends up in the last 16, Japan will benefit. It will be a great opportunity for Japan to even make it to the final quarter-finals cut.
The 23-selected Players
Goalkeepers – Eiji Kawashima (Metz/FRA), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa).
Defenders – Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray/TUR), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa), Wataru Endo (Urawa), Maya Yoshida (Southampton/ENG). Hiroki Sakai (Marseille/FRA), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg/GER), Gen Shoji. Naomichi Ueda (Kashima).
Midfielders – Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca/MEX), Takashi Inui (Eibar/ESP), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund/GER). Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi, (Fortuna Dusseldorf/GER), Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf/GER), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe/ESP), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki)
Forwards – Shinji Okazaki (Leicester/ENG), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen/GER). Yoshinori Muto (Mainz/GER)