Japan's performance in the World Cup football tournament has been littered with disappointments and near-misses. The Japanese failed to reach the 1994 tournament with a last-minute loss to Iraq. However, this year as co-host of the tournament with South Korea, Japan received an automatic berth into the event. Japan has assembled a squad to try to make the home fans proud.
Japan had a disappointing time at the last World Cup in France, losing all three of its matches. However, French-born Coach Phillippe Troussier has a squad that mixes young stars from the J League with professionals with World Cup experience.
Among the players selected are veterans Masashi Nakayama, the only Japanese player to score a goal in the 1998 World Cup, who has 47 international appearances and 21 goals.
International soccer commentator Derek Rae says Coach Troussier has put together a squad that could represent Japan very well. "Phillippe Troussier, the Frenchman who is in charge, I think he knows he has some players there to work with," he said. "It is not just professionals from the local scene that he has tried to put together and form into a useful side. There are players there who would grace most top club sides in the world."
Japan's squad will rely on players with experience in Europe, including Hidetoshi Nakata, who has played in Italy's prestigious Serie A for AS Roma and Parma. Also on the squad is Shinji Ono, a midfielder with the Dutch club, Feyenoord. Derek Rae says the Japanese squad might surprise some of its opponents. "Shinji Ono has had a remarkable time with Feyenoord in Holland," he said. "And we all know about Hidetoshi Nakata, who burst onto the Serie-A scene in Italy on the back of his performances in 1998. So is there hope for Japan? Yes, I think there is. I think they can make it to the round of 16. Beyond that it is hard to foresee. I think they would do well just to get out of the group."
Japan plays its opening World Cup match against Belgium on June 4 in Saitama. The co-hosts then take on Group H opponents Russia June 9 in Yokohma and Tunisia June 14 in Osaka.