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Soccer-Japan World Cup draw factbox

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TOKYO, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Factbox on World Cup qualifiers

Japan:

Form and Prospects

Asian champions Japan were the first side to qualify for the

finals in Brazil with their fast flowing football, led by

Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, too much for their regional

opponents and raising hopes of a World Cup breakthrough.

Head coach Alberto Zaccheroni had demanded tougher friendly

fixtures in preparation for the finals and the JFA delivered but

the sterner opposition only heightened concerns about their

defensive frailty and damaged confidence.

A shock qualifying loss to Jordan, three defeats at the

Confederations Cup in June and friendly reversals by Uruguay,

Bulgaria, Serbia and Belarus resulted in the JFA coming out to

defend Zaccheroni's position amid rumours he might be replaced.

A strong fightback in the 2-2 draw with Netherlands on Nov.

16, a match they could have won, and a 3-2 win away to heavily

fancied Belgium prove that the Asian champions should not be

taken lightly in Brazil and can now trouble the best.

However, a weak central defence is likely to be their

undoing when they face the top sides in Brazil, while none of

the strikers have staked a strong enough claim for the starting

berth.

They will be far more entertaining than they were four years

ago in South Africa but might not emulate the last 16 success.

Coach: Alberto Zaccheroni

The hugely experienced 60-year-old Italian has enjoyed a

productive three-year stint with Japan but his 2011 Asian Cup

success has only raised expectations.

Japan have never gone beyond the last 16 in their four

previous World Cup appearances but he has the tactical know-how

and the creative talents to make that happen in Brazil.

He has chopped and changed from the 3-4-3 formation that

brought him the Serie A title with AC Milan to a 4-2-3-1 set-up

in qualifying which gave Kagawa, Honda and Inter Milan fullback

Yuto Nagatomo room to attack.

That might have to be changed again, though, to offer

greater protection to a porous defence, but if anyone can fix a

defaulting defensive line it is the wily Italian.

Key player: Keisuke Honda

Kagawa may garner the most attention courtesy of his move to

Manchester United, but Honda is central to all of Japan's

attacking plans.

The bleach-blond 27-year-old is Zaccheroni's playmaker,

forcing Kagawa to attack from the left which the United player

has voiced his displeasure at.

Calm and assured in possession, Honda is a great reader of

the game and astute at bringing team mates into play, while his

dribbling is a hot commodity in a passing dominated era.

He boasts a strong goal scoring record thanks mainly to his

work at set pieces and was named player of the tournament as

Japan won the 2011 Asian Cup. He will leave CSKA Moscow in

January to join AC Milan.

How they qualified: Asian zone: Final Group B winners

Round Three:

2011

Sept 2 North Korea H W 1-0 Yoshida

Sept 6 Uzbekistan A D 1-1 Okazaki

Oct 11 Tajikistan H W 8-0 Havenaar(2), Okazaki (2),

Komano, Kagawa (2), Nakamura

Nov 11 Tajikistan A W 4-0 Konno, Okazaki (2), Maeda

Nov 15 North Korea A L 0-1

2012

Feb 29 Uzbekistan H L 0-1

Round Four:

June 3 Oman H W 3-0 Honda, Maeda, Okazaki

June 8 Jordan H W 6-0 Maeda, Honda (3), Kagawa,

Kurihara

June 12 Australia A D 1-1 Kurihara

Sept 11 Iraq H W 1-0 Maeda

Nov 14 Oman A W 2-1 Kiyotake, Okazaki

2013

March 26 Jordan A L 2-1 Kagawa

June 4 Australia H D 1-1 Honda (pen)

June 11 Iraq A W 1-0 Okazaki

World Cup record

Previous appearances in finals: 4 (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010)

Best performance: Last 16 (2002 and 2010)

Odds: William Hill odds to win World Cup (Nov 2013): 150-1

(Writing by Patrick Johnston; editing by Josh Reich)

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