TOKYO, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Factbox on World Cup qualifiers
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
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
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
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
Feb 29 Uzbekistan H L 0-1
June 3 Oman H W 3-0 Honda, Maeda, Okazaki
June 8 Jordan H W 6-0 Maeda, Honda (3), Kagawa,
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
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)