World Cup 2014 Preview: Japan hopes to seize opportunity

 

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Japan first made it out of the group stage in 2002 by finishing atop a group that consisted of Belgium, Russia and Tunisia.

The 2006 World Cup saw Japan drawn into a tough group with Brazil, Australia and Croatia, and the Asian nation was unable to sneak out, bottoming the table with just one point from its three games.

In 2010, Japan was placed in a potentially tricky group by being drawn with the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon, but it managed to finish second behind the Dutch to advance to the Round of 16.

And if Japan's form during qualifying serves as any indication, the nation could be poised for a place in the knockout round yet again.

Shinji Okazaki played a starring role for Japan as his eight goals put him atop the scoring chart for Asian qualifiers.

Okazaki also enjoyed a banner with Mainz during the club season, scoring a team-high 15 goals in Bundesliga action to lift the club to a seventh-place finish in the German top flight.

Japan also boasts a host of players plying their trade in Europe's top leagues.

Shinji Kagawa is arguably the nation's best player, but he struggled to lock down a place in Manchester United's team this season.

The concern regarding Kagawa's form places a bit of additional pressure on Japan's supporting cast, specifically Keisuke Honda.

Honda, 27, is a budding world star who joined AC Milan in January on a free transfer. His ability to create and finish scoring opportunities will be vital to helping Japan advance from group play.

Makoto Hasebe, Japan's captain and one of the nation's most experienced players, will occupy the center of the park to shield the defensive unit and orchestrate attacking moves.

A key outlet for Hasebe will be Yuto Nagatomo, Inter Milan's pacy winger who provides excellent service from the flank.

Japan also boasts a great deal of experience in defense as Atsuto Uchida, Yasuyuki Konno, Hiroki Sakai and Maya Yoshida will look to keep opposing offenses in check.

Anchoring the defense will be goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who also started for Japan in the 2010 World Cup.

Combine all of the individual pieces and Japan certainly has the talent to emerge from a group with no clear-cut favorite.

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