Guest writer/James Dielhenn
Japan have confirmed themselves as a team expected to feature at the World Cup after they qualified for their fourth consecutive tournament, the only four they have competed at in their history.

A major force in Asian football, Japan easily qualified for this summer’s showpiece in South Africa, only losing one game to Australia throughout their campaign. Takeshi Okada returned to manage Japan after the 2006 World Cup after the team failed to progress beyond the group stage. He was previously in charge of Japan’s first ever World Cup team in 1998, where they were also eliminated at the group stage.

Okada said: “We are not going to change our tactics because when I set this team’s basic tactical approach, it was already done with a view to winning against the world’s biggest teams. Our main target in South Africa is to reach the semi-finals.”

Shunsuke Nakamura will have the most responsibility if Okada’s hugely bold prediction is to come true. This World Cup will be the last big opportunity for the former Celtic playmaker to make his mark on the big stage after he left Europe to resume his club career back home. He could be partnered in midfield by Junichi Inamoto, formerly of Arsenal and Fulham, who could occupy a holding role.

Daisuke Matsui is another big player for Okada’s side, and after missing the 2006 World Cup in Germany, he will be particularly keen to impress. Japan’s newest star, Keisuke Honda, caught the eye in this season’s Champions’ League with CSKA Moscow, and will burden the goalscoring responsibilities alongside the highly-rated Catania striker Takayuki Morimoto.

Japan have been named in a very competitive group with Holland, Cameroon and Denmark. Okada’s men will certainly be challenged to qualify from the group for only the second time in their history, after they reached the last 16 when they co-hosted the competition in 2002.

Japan’s provisional FIFA World Cup squad:

Seigo Narazaki (Nagoya Grampus), Eiji Kawashima (Kawasaki Frontale), Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (Jubilo Iwata); Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama F. Marinos), Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Nagoya Grampus), Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Daiki Iwamasa (Kashima Antlers), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Atsuto Uchida (Kashima Antlers); Shunsuke Nakamura (Yokohama F. Marinos), Junichi Inamoto (Kawasaki Frontale), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Daisuke Matsui (Grenoble), Yuki Abe (Urawa Reds), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow); Keiji Tamada (Nagoya Grampus), Yoshito Okubo (Vissel Kobe), Kisho Yano (Albirex Niigata), Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse), Takayuki Morimoto (Catania).

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