TOKYO, May 24 (Reuters) - Factbox on the Japan national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup:
FIFA ranking: 60 (till June 7)
Japan have appeared at the World Cup five times, making their debut at the 1998 tournament in France. Since then, they have been a permanent fixture at the tournament. They have reached the round of 16 on two occasions, most recently in South Africa in 2010. They also reached the second round when they co-hosted the 2002 tournament with South Korea, losing 1-0 to Turkey.
Akira Nishino: Nishino took over as Japan head coach on April 9 after the surprise sacking of Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, who had steered Japan to the finals in Russia. The 63-year-old made 12 appearances for the Blue Samurai as a player yet is most famous in his home country for coaching the Japan side who defeated Brazil at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He has promised to play an attacking brand of football and to repair the fractured relationship between the coaching staff and the players. Key players: Shinji Kagawa: The Borussia Dortmund midfielder has struggled to emulate the form that made him Japan’s star man going into Brazil 2014, but his club performances improved after coach Peter Stoeger took over the German side and the 29-year-old has since looked back to his best.
A recent injury has hampered his World Cup preparations but with 29 goals in 89 appearances for Japan, Kagawa remains the man most likely to unlock opposing defences in Russia. Yuto Nagatomo: Cap centurion Nagamoto, currently plying his trade for Galatasaray on loan from Inter Milan, is the most experienced member of a resilient Japan defence that conceded only seven goals in their 10 qualifying games. The 31-year-old may not possess the same pace of yesteryear but Nagatomo’s wealth of top-flight European experience could be crucial at the World Cup. Keisuke Honda: Long Japan’s most famous footballing export, the 31-year-old midfielder can now be found playing for C.F. Pachuca in the Mexican top flight. Despite being somewhat off the radar, the former AC Milan player was recalled for the most recent friendlies. Honda will be a dangerous weapon for Nishino to call on from the bench. Form guide: Since qualifying, Japan have struggled, losing to Ukraine, Belgium and Brazil and drawing with Mali and Haiti in friendly matches. In these games they conceded 10 goals and scored six.
How they qualified:
Japan finished top of a tough Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of fellow qualifiers Saudi Arabia and Australia. They conceded only seven goals in 10 qualification matches.
Japan will count themselves fortunate to have avoided the more dangerous top seeds by being drawn in Group H, alongside Poland. However, Senegal and Colombia, who make up the group, both possess the quality to hurt Japan. If Japan do make it into the second round, they are likely to face England or Belgium from Group G. (Reporting by Jack Tarrant Editing by Toby Davis)