One of the few Asian teams that can count itself among the best in the world is Japan. The Blue Samurai are a truly world class outfit, with a good attacking style of football, utilising their strengths to try and get the best results. The task isn’t going to be easy, with the likes of Colombia and Ivory Coast in their group, but with players like Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa leading them forward, Japan can go past the group stages, and trouble the best of teams.
The starting keeper is likely to be Eiji Kawashima of Standard Liège. Unless there are injury problems Atsuko Uchida of Schalke 04 will be deployed as right back, while Yuto Nagatomo of Internazionale will be on the left. One half of the center back partnership seems to be decided, as Maya Yoshida of Southampton seems to be the first choice for the right of center, while Masato Morishige, Masahiko Inoha and Yasuyuki Konno, who was Yoshida’s partner at the Confederations Cup will compete for the second spot.
The energetic duo of captain Makoto Hasebe and Hotaru Yamaguchi will close down the middle and start attacks from the midfield and the front three behind the lone striker will most probably be the trio of Shiniji Kagawa of Manchester United, Keisuke Honda of AC Milan and Shiniji Okazaki of Mainz 05. The lone forward role will likely be played by Yoichiro Kakitani, who currently plays for Cerezo Osaka.
The Japanese national team seemingly will be one of the most entertaining sides of the World Cup in Brazil, considering that the game plan of the team and coach Alberto Zaccheroni mainly relies on quick movement on and off the ball. Japan like to move the ball quickly, press high up and close down their opponents as quickly as possible to regain the ball once it is lost. Zaccheroni has used a solid 4-2-3-1 since his arrival in Japan and uses the fluidity of his front four extremely well.
With two rampaging full-backs and intense pressing up front, Japan quickly gain numbers in the attacking third and present a fast-paced, entertaining style of football. The starting eleven is pretty much decided but there might be only small changes from the team we remember from the Confederations Cup in 2013.
The clever movement of the trio of Kagawa-Honda and Okazaki proves to be crucial for Japan’s offense, especially when Okazaki proves to be an option for direct football on the right flank, while Honda drifts into the pockets of space created by Kakitani and creates overloads on the flanks. Shiniji Kagawa, who has not had the best of seasons with Manchester United this season, still proves to be a reliable option as he cuts in from the left and sometimes interchanges with Honda. Meanwhile the full backs Uchida and Nagatomo do like to charge forward on the overlap and provide crossing options constantly.
However this mentality of playing and the usage of a high line comes with a few negative sides as well. When Uchida and Nagatomo charge forward, there is acres of space left for opposition wingers to drift into, and a striker who can occupy both center backs (such as Kostas Mitroglou of Greece) can cause a lot of problems for the Japanese defense on the break.
Another problem could be the lack of physical contact from the Japanese players. Yes, Japan are a technical team and they control the ball well and move it very quickly to avoid contact, however the teams they are facing in the group stage are physically way stronger than they are and this could prove crucial in the midfield. The advanced positioning combined with the risk of losing the midfield battle can become disastrous and we have seen the examples of how this story goes with Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season when they were managed by André Villas-Boas.
Yet again when Japan have the ball, they are pretty good at keeping it. The squad possesses an amazing technical quality, plus with the main ambition being carrying the ball quickly to the attacking third and gaining the numbers on that end of the pitch also means that they manage to maintain their energy until the final whistle. It will be very difficult to run for 90 minutes considering the conditions (especially humidity) however, with such positioning, it becomes easier to maintain energy and charge into direct attacks. Under such circumstances, the trio of attacking midfielders behind the lone striker play a huge role, as they are the main source of creativity for the team.
Maya Yoshida | Japan play an ultra attacking style of football, with full backs charging forward to join the attacks, and midfielders playing key roles in the building of attacks. The focus of almost all players is getting the ball into the opposition half, and keeping it there through pressing off the ball. As a result of all this, the defence is their weak point, as we saw at the Confederations Cup last year. Yoshida is the only one who possibly has a secure place here, and whoever his partner is, the central defensive duo better be on their toes if they are to keep goal concession to a minimum in this World Cup.
Yoichiro Kakitani | The Cerezo Osaka forward has had try-outs with some big clubs in the past, and is definitely a talented young player. Playing in front of the talented and creative trio of Okazaki, Honda, and Kagawa means that Kakitani should not be short of chances to score. If the youngster can take these chances, he will put Japan in a very good position to go past the group stage. Moreover, how he works the channels and creates space for those behind him will also be key to Japan’s hopes for progression.
TALENT RADAR KEY YOUNG PLAYERS
Unfortunately the Japanese World Cup squad doesn’t have any player that qualifies for the Talent Radar feature but Cerezo Osaka’s 19-yr-old striker, Takumi Minamino, was on the stand-by list.
This article was written by Firat Aktav. Follow him on Twitter @FiratAktav
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