2018 World Cup team preview: Japan

AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama
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Getting to know Japan: It’s a sixth-straight appearance for Japan, who has either been terrible or inspiring every other tournament.

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Thrice winless and twice Round of 16 combatants, the Samurai Blue are sound but need to find goals if they want to return to the knockout rounds.

For more history on Japan, click here.

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What group are they in? Group H. Japan is probably the underdog of the bunch, with Poland, Colombia, and Senegal all capable of claiming top honors

Game schedule – Group H – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Tuesday, June 19: Colombia v Japan, Saransk 8 a.m. ET
Sunday, June 24: Japan v Senegal, Yekaterinburg 11 a.m. ET
Thursday, June 28: Japan v Poland, Volgograd 10 a.m. ET


Projected lineup (4-3-3) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Kawashima —–

— Sakai — Yoshida — Shoji — Nagatomi

—- Haraguchi —- Hasebe —- Yamaguchi —-

—- Honda —- Osako —- Usami —-


Star player: Maya Yoshida — The Southampton center back underwent a tumultuous season at St. Mary’s, but is one of several experienced Japanese backs in the fold for Russia.


Manager: Akira Nishino – Twelve times capped by Japan, the 63-year-old former Vissel Kobe and Nagoya Grampus Eight boss gets his first chance to shine at a World Cup.


Secret weapon: Shinji Okazaki — It may seem goofy to label a Premier League striker with 50 international goals as Japan’s secret weapon, but Leicester City’s bench spark plug has a similar role at this stage of his career for the Samurai Blue. He’s the third all-time goal scorer in Japanese history, though goals have been few and far between for Okazaki since 2016.


Prediction: Fourth in a very good group.