The FIFA World Cup Team Runthrough Thread #1 For 6/9/14: #20 Japan
Photo From Imago
Uchida Yoshida Morishige/Konno Nagatomo
Honda Kagawa Kakitani
Buoyed by a comprehensive 2011 AFC Cup title, Japan exhibited at last summer's Confederations Cup its greatest collection of attacking talent in its nations' history. That was firmly evident in a contest against Italy in which they placed Cesare Prandelli's defense under constant duress with a myriad of exciting waves.
The only problem for them , however, was that their own backline was easily susceptible to a vaunted offense, as Italy was able to whether the storm and go on to win 4-3. That result, coupled with clear defeats to Brazil and Mexico, represented how Alberto Zaccheroni had to search for ways to make sure that didn't happen a year later.
Now that time has come to see whether an entertaining Samurai Warriors outlet has located the proper balance between organized defending and lethal attack to advance beyond the group stage like in 2010. But it will be harder this time around than in South Africa, as while Colombia is slightly worse than Holland, Ivory Coast and Greece are a step up over what Cameroon and Denmark were.
The first player who must find that two way equilibrium primarily is Inter Milan star leftback Yuto Nagatomo.
There is never a doubt about how tremendous Nagatomo is when he comes from deep into the field and brainstorms an opposing's box. His offensive abilities are even more celebrated with the finishing ability of a good international winger he shows for club and country. To any defense in the world, he is to never be ignored. Sometimes though it seems he ignores his primary responsibilities of defending, and Nagatomo will have to make sure he remembers his first responsibilities.
Zaccheroni must holds the reigns on the 27-year-old electrifying wide man, as well Schalke right back Atso Uchida on the other side. Simply terrific in a fine 3rd place season in the Bundesliga for the Royal Blues, the 26-year-old will look to bring his continued mix of defending and positive play for his international royal blues. Nagatomo and Uchida represent the best non UEFA/CONMEBOL fullback pairing in the tournament.
However, both fullbacks may have to stay back a lot considering Japan's weakness in the central defensive zone is glaring for all to see. Maya Yoshida is a good talent with size but struggled to see time with Southampton this season. Even more of a problem that keeps Zaccheroni up at night is who his pairing will be. J-League stars Masato Morishige, Yasuyuki Konno, and Masahiko Inhoa just aren't World Cup level centerbacks. The Italian manager will either play one of those three alongside Yoshida, or have Uchida fill in as his partner. That would lead to the right back spot going to one of the young Bundesliga based Sakais (no relation), 23-year-old Gotoku of Stuttgart or 24-year-old Hiroki of Hannover 96. Both had very good years in Deutschland's top flight, making it hard to determine who would get that nod if Uchida were moved inside.
The second half of the conundrum for Zaccheroni is who the defensive holding midfielders would be. The shoulders of that massive responsibility to protect a mediocre at best centerback pairing likely will fall to Hotaru Yamaguchi, the 23-year-old who has develop nicely from his youth days at Cerezo Osaka. After being a reliable stalwart on the U-23 level for his nation, including helping them secure a 4th place finish at the London Olympics, Yamaguchi's play and how he deals with the pressure that will come at him in Group C will make or break Japan's tournament. Yamaguchi couldn't get a firmer test to see if he is ready to be one of Asia's top prospects than going against Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast), James Rodriguez (Colombia), and even Kostas Katsouranis (Greece) this fortnight.
Against the Ivory Coast and Colombia, Zaccheroni may have to play with two holders and bring in Japan's all time leading caps man in the great Yasuhito Endo. Europe lost is the J-League marvelous gain and gratefulness to have Endo play his whole career domestically, as he has exhibited for his country why he could have played in a big UEFA league and been effective. He will serve as a vital shoulder to lean on for young Yamaguchi, but must be the outlet for the attack while his youthful counterpart tends to trying to destroy explosive offenses. These dilemmas for the former AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus coach take away any thoughts on whether his goalkeeper, the experienced but average Eiji Kawashima, can produce key saves he will have to make finally against elite competition.
If Zaccheroni can have some decent, centerback and holding midfield play, than the sky is the limit for Japan. As a collective, they have the AFC's best offense and can give any defense in the world intricate tests throughout a match. Despite disappointing club seasons for both, star men Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda have established global representations that have stemmed from their outstanding skills.
But unlike their struggles at Manchester United and AC Milan respectively, the third prominent figure in Japan's great forward, the vastly underrated Shinji Okazaki, shined with his club in 2013-14. His continent's best forward at the moment, Okazaki was the lead talisman in Mainz wonderful 7th place season in the Bundesliga. The 28-year-old scored 15 goals for his new club, five more than two seasons at Stuttgart he produced, to consolidate the amazing goal every two game a goal record he currently has for his nation (38 goals in 76 games). He certainly has all the finishing capabilities and partners behind him to continue that great total.
What will help Okazaki though, besides Honda and Kagowa up front, is who plays the finale man in the front four. One of two well polished 24-year-olds will get that spot, as Cologne's rising Yuya Osako or Yoichiro Kakitani of Cerezo Osaka leave Zaccheroni with another key choice to make. Despite Osako impressing in Bundesliga 2 this spring with 1860 Munich, it is Kakitani who seems to be in pole position for the starting lineup after impressive friendly displays against Costa Rica and Zambia.
One of those two will go to the bench, adding to a "not sensational, but decent" bench for Japan. If it weren't for the presence of Honda, Makoyo Hasebe could have been starting in the lineup. But his lack of consistent playing time this season for Nurnberg has been a major detriment to him, where it seems like he will loose his spot to Yamaguchi. With Kakitani likely to start, Osako will definitely be given chances to be another ominous sign for Japan's Group C sides to be weary about. Another attacking threat who may get minutes is Manabu Saito of Yokohama F. Marinos, although he will certainly not strike any fear in his Group C opponents.
Overshadowed by Korea Republic outperforming them in their joint hosting of the 2002 World Cup, Japan has taken over the top dog spot in AFC with their steady development and passion for the game. They are desperate to take the next step and establish themselves as a legit global power. Their Group C rivals will provide that great opportunity to reach that level, but they will only be able to do that if their defense has significantly improve.
Zaccharini is more renewed for created the 3-4-3 system than being a great manager at club level, with the Serie A title with AC Milan in 1999 followed by constant managerial disappointment in Il Calcio. Now in the international game for the first time, it will be quite the career revival for the 61-year-old if he is able to see his Japan side have the balance he required.
Under The Radar, Key Players
Yamaguchi: The 23-year-old, as mentioned before, will be given such a massive job in being the main defensive midfield against top class opponents. Though Endo will be a great shoulder to lean on, they will need Yamaguchi to be a smart, sound, and energetic destroyer in the midfield at all times to even given Japan a chance to defend well throughout.