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FIFA World Cup finals history
They failed to live up to the expectations in their debut FIFA World Cup, losing three straight games to bow out. However, 2002 Korea/Japan saw them make history on home soil in Asia’s first FIFA World Cup, winning a group that also featured Russia, Belgium and Tunisia to storm into the second round, only to lose out to eventual third-place finishers Turkey by a solitary goal. They were brought back down to earth at Germany 2006, salvaging merely a point from three group games to dump out.
They more than redeemed themselves at South Africa 2010 though, progressing to the second stage at the expense of the likes of Denmark and Cameroon. They came close to stunning Paraguay in the consequent round-of-16 clash, with the South Americans only advancing through a penalty shootout victory after regular and extra time finished goalless.
The key players
Having excelled during the last FIFA World Cup and the recent AFC Asian Cup, CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda has quickly established his place as the team’s new leader, filling the void left by Hidetoshi Nakata and Shunsuke Nakamura.
Spearheading the attacking-line are Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki, who finished the continental finals as the team’s top-scorer with three goals. Driving the central field alongside Honda is set-piece specialist Yasuhito Endo while Schalke 04 defender Atsuto Uchida is the key man at the rearguard.
Coach: Alberto Zaccheroni
Best performances in a FIFA competition: Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Mexico City 1968 (Third place), FIFA U-20 World Cup Nigeria 1999 (Runners-up), FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 (Quarter-finals)
Former stars: Kazuyoshi Miura, Shunsuke Nakamura, Hidetoshi Nakata