Asian Cup: Japan Profile

We take a look at the Socceroos quarter final opponent, Japan

Japan Profile

Asian Region: East Asia AFC Member Since: 1954 FIFA Member Since: 1929 Asian Cup finalists: 1988, 1992 (1st), 1996, 2000 (1st), 2004 (1st) Coach: Ivica Osim (Bosnia) World Ranking (July): 36

Japan comes to the 2007 Asian Cup as the two-time defending Champion, having won the titles in 2000 and 2003, but smarting from its early exit from the 2006 World Cup finals.

Since making their first Asian Cup finals in 1988, Japan has been the powerhouse nation, claiming the title on three occasions. They came into this year-s edition as the highest ranked Asian team on the FIFA World Rankings and are hellbent on exacting revenge on Australia, for the World Cup loss (1-3) in Kaiserslautern.

Most believed this would happen in the final, but with Australia-s early struggles in their group matches the match-up has come a little earlier than expected and one will go out in the quarter finals.

For the first time in Asian Cup history, the previous winner was forced to qualify for this year-s finals and was grouped with fellow Asian powerhouse again Saudi Arabia, Yemen and India. There was never any doubt about which two teams would qualify from this group, it was just which one would finish top. Saudi Arabia held the box position after winning in Riydah (1-0) and as expected results went according to plan and it all came down to the final group game. Japan had to win and win well and that-s exactly what they did, with a 3-1 victory.

New coach Ivica Osim, who replaced Brazilian Zico, after the World Cup, used just Japanese-based players during qualifying, showing the strength of the J-League. Osim would keep faith with the majority of these players, choosing only two overseas-based players in his Asian Cup squad.

Those two players however, Shunsuke Nakamura and Naohiro Takahara are undoubtedly the two stars of the team, with Nakamura the 2003 edition Player of the Tournament, while Takahara is in prime goalscoring touch with 3 goals already in the tournament. Nakamura, who also has three goals in this tournament, has also just come off a stellar season with Celtic, where he was named Scottish Player of the Year and is particularly dangerous at set pieces.

Japan has so far been the team of the tournament, especially in its final two group games, where it displayed its attacking credentials. Opened with a 1-1 draw against the highly-rated Qatar, before destroying UAE and host Vietnam in the final two games with seven goals. Apart from Nakamura and Takahara, Osim has plenty of other players with Endo and Maki particularly impressive against Vietnam.

What is significant though since last years World Cup, is the way that Japan plays and with a more offensive 3-5-2 formation, Australia-s midfield and defence will have their work cut out for them. They also have a settled line-up, with the same players all lining up in the three group games and as they are in the middle of their season, so fitness is not a worry for them.

Group Match Results v Qatar - drew 1-1 v UAE - 3-1 v Vietnam - 4-1