Japan International Football Team
Following a good performance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the Japan national team started a new era under Alberto Zaccheroni, and only four months after his arrival in September 2010 the Samurai Blue clinched the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.
Asian Cup success
Due to domestic competitions and the club commitments of the team’s Europe-based players, Japan had a short period of preparation for the Asian Cup. The team played only two friendly matches with Zaccheroni in charge, both in early October – a 1-0 win over Argentina at home and a 0-0 draw with Korea Republic in Seoul. Japan struggled in their first game at the 2011 Asian Cup, drawing 1-1 with Jordan after a stoppage-time equalizer from Maya Yoshida.
Their second match was just as tough. They had to overcome a 1-0 deficit and the loss of goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima to a red card midway through the second half. But Japan prevailed thanks to a late penalty by Keisuke Honda.
Even though Japan suffered from injuries and suspensions, they still romped over Saudi Arabia 5-0 on the back of Shinji Okazaki’s hat-trick and Ryoichi Maeda’s brace, allowing them to win their group.
In the quarterfinals, Japan faced tough resistance from hosts Qatar and again went down to 10 men in the second half. Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa leveled the scores twice for Japan before substitute defender Masahiko Inoha struck the winner in the last minute.
Japan and Korea Republic fought a typically close match in the semifinals, but goalkeeper Kawashima shined in the penalty shootout, which Japan won 3-0. In regular time, Maeda cancelled out Korea’s lead in the first half and the Samurai Blue went ahead after Hajime Hosogai poked home the rebound following a penalty miss by Honda. But Korea equalized in the dying moments of extra time.
In the final, Japan fought hard against Australia and the match went to extra time again. Substitute forward Tadanari Lee’s spectacular volley in the 109th minute was enough to earn Japan their fourth Asian title.
Japan will play the Copa America in Argentina in July as Asian champions. They last played in the 1999 tournament.
Japan will start their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign in September, aiming to secure one of the 4.5 slots given to Asia.
2010 World Cup
At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Japan made their fourth straight appearance in the finals and reached the Round of 16 for the first time since 2002. Under the guidance of Takeshi Okada, who was in charge when Japan first qualified for the finals in 1998, the Samurai Blue got off to a great start in Bloemfontein on June 14 when they beat Cameroon 1-0. It was Japan’s first World Cup win on foreign soil. In their second group game on June 19 in Durban, Japan fought hard but suffered a 1-0 loss to eventual runners-up the Netherlands. Japan responded superbly with a 3-1 win over Denmark in their third and final group game. The result meant Japan finished second in Group E and advanced to the knockout stages. In their Round-of-16 match against Paraguay on June 29 in Pretoria, Japan matched the South Americans and fought to a goalless draw over 120 minutes, but they lost 5-3 in the penalty shootout.
When Japan made their World Cup debut in France in 1998 under Takeshi Okada, they ended up losing all three matches: 1-0 to Argentina, 1-0 to Croatia and 2-1 to Jamaica. Four years later, led by French coach Philippe Troussier, Japan reached the Round of 16 on home soil. This followed a preparation campaign that brought victory in the AFC Asian Cup in 2000 and a runners-up finish in the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup.
In the 2002 World Cup, which Japan jointly hosted with Korea Republic, the Boys in Blue started with a 2-2 draw against Belgium, before collecting their first-ever World Cup finals victory when they downed Russia 1-0. They then beat Tunisia 2-0 to top their group, but lost 1-0 to Turkey in the Round of 16.
After the 2002 World Cup, Japan put Zico in the driving seat for the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign. The Brazilian helped Japan retain the Asian Cup in a hard-fought tournament in China in 2004, before leading them through a successful qualifying campaign for the 2006 finals in Germany, with an 11-0-1 win-draw-loss record.
Japan went to Germany in 2006 aiming to reach the knockout stages again.
Their campaign, however, ended disappointingly, losing 3-1 to Australia in their opening match, drawing 0-0 with Croatia and then crashing 4-1 to Brazil.
Japan started to rebuild under former Yugoslavia coach Ivica Osim, with their focus set on the 2010 World Cup in South Arica.
Under Osim, Japan hoped to win their third straight AFC Asian Cup, but they were only able to finish fourth in the 2007 finals after a penalty-shootout loss to Korea Republic in the third-place playoff.
Japan’s next challenge was the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, but they suffered a huge setback in November 2007 when coach Osim was hospitalized following a serious stroke. The loss of Osim shortly before the start of their World Cup qualifying campaign was a huge blow, but Japan coped in this most difficult of moments thanks to the return of Okada, and the national team was able to enjoy a successful qualifying campaign.
Okada’s second reign
Okada, who had quit after the 1998 World Cup, had only two months to prepare for the start of the Asian qualifiers. Despite the short preparation time, Japan got off to a good start with a 4-1 win over Thailand in February 2008. They went on to win their group with a 4-1-1 win-draw-loss record.
Japan carried their momentum into the final round of qualifiers that started in September 2008. A 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in Tashkent on June 6, 2009, earned the Samurai Blue their ticket to South Africa. Japan eventually wrapped up their qualifying campaign with a 4-3-1 record to reach their fourth straight World Cup.