Caltex Socceroos opposition dossier: Japan

​Asian football expert @JohnnyDuerden has the inside word on Australia's opponents Japan ahead of Tuesday night's blockbuster in Melbourne.

Japan arrive in Melbourne looking to leapfrog above Australia on top of Group B on matchday four of the final round of qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The Samurai Blue haven't won in Australia in past FIFA World Cup qualifiers but there is no better time than this.

Late drama in Saitama: Japan defeat Iraq

Recent form

The latest FIFA rankings have Japan as the sixth-best team in Asia and while that is surely an anomaly, it reflects the up and down nature of the four-time Asian champion in recent times.

Defeat at home to the United Arab Emirates has put the pressure on while removing some room for error. There was some bad luck in that game and Japan bounced back well with a comfortable 2-0 win in Bangkok. 

Japan were stunned 2-1 by UAE in their opening World Cup Qualifier.

Japan defeated Iraq 2-1 on Thursday night, even if it needed a 95th minute Hotaru Yamaguchi strike to secure the points. 

It eases the pressure off a little for the game in Australia, the biggest test yet. 

One problem for Japan is that a number of its biggest stars –Keisuke Honda, Maya Yoshida, Shinji Kagawa, Yuto Nagatomo and Shinji Okazaki – have barely played so far this season for their clubs in Italy, England and Germany.

Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic

The Bosnian came to Japan not long after the 2014 World Cup when his Algeria team impressed with pace, power, aggression and no little skill. 

The Fennecs pushed eventual champion Germany all the way in the knockout stage. His time in Japan has not really got going but he is trying to create a faster and more aggressive version of Japan. 

Vahid Halilhodzic

A win in Australia would really earn the plaudits and could be the defining result of his tenure.

How they will play?

Likely to be 4-2-3-1. Though there may be a couple of changes after the Iraq game but Australia know Japan's style well after a number of meetings over the years. 

The full-backs get forward often and quickly with Gotoku Sakai on the left and Hiroki Sakai on the right do just that against Iraq.

Shinji Kagawa was left on the bench - though could start in Melbourne - as was Yuto Nagatomo while Makoto Hasebe and Yosuke Kashiwagi shielded the defence and looked to start attacks. 

Japan's Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda celebrate a goal in World Cup qualifying.

Expect plenty of passing through the middle, lots of movement further ahead and Leicester City's Shinji Okazaki working his socks off.

Key Players

Keisuke Honda

Is it good or bad for the Caltex Socceroos that one of Asia's biggest talents has spent most of the season so far sitting on the AC Milan bench? 

Honda will be raring to go in Melbourne and remind fans around the continent and perhaps Europe too, of what he is capable of. 

Keisuke Honda

If Honda plays well then Japan play well as he scores as well as creates. Is due a big performance for his country.

Maya Yoshida

Japan is better known for producing top quality midfielders like Hiroshi Kiyotake but game in, game out Maya Yoshida is there in the middle of defence. 

The Southampton defender is not the old-fashioned centre-back but when you are as fast and as intelligent as Yoshida, you don't need to be diving into tackles. 

Doesn't always get the headlines but a fine defender.


Ahead of the Iraq and Australia games, a haul of four points would have been satisfactory and still is. 

A draw, in what is Japan's toughest game in the group, would be fine. Anything more, a major cause for celebration. 

Japan's Hotaru Yamaguchi

The Samurai Blue are not firing on all cylinders but Melbourne could be the place for their campaign to kick into top gear. 

Socceroos v Japan banner