World Cup 2006 Preview – Japan Outright Odds: 300/1 Group F Winners: 16/1 Japan are a challenging team to predict

. Last year they beat European champions Greece and earned a credible draw with Brazil in last year’s Confederations Cup but their qualifying campaign was much less than convincing. They lost just once in 12 qualifying matches, away at Iran, and topped the group overall, but they only managed to score more than two goals against a severely depleted Indian side and required last minute wins against Oman and Korea DPR. Such feebleness in qualification saw the public call for manager Zico’s head but the reality they qualified for the tournament will save the Brazilian football legend’s job for the time being. Japan reached the second round 4 years ago but they will do well to reach that stage this time about. The 2002 campaign saw Japan defeat a dismal Russia prior to narrowly losing out to Turkey in the second round. Legend has it that then-coach Phillipe Troussier chose striker Akinori Nishizawa, who had not played in the tournament, ahead of regular strikers Takayuki Suzuki and Atushi Yanagisawa because it was his birthday. Surely Zico wouldn’t make such a mistake? A UK-based midfield trio of Hidetoshi Nakata (Bolton Wanderers), Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic), Junichi Inamoto (West Bromwich Albion) and if fit, Shinji Ono of Feyenoord gives Japan their greatest chance of success – it’s the rest with the team which lacks true international class. The normal strike pairing of Naohiro Takahara and Yanagisawa do not get regular club football with Hamburg and Messina while the rest with the side is made up of residents of the vastly improving J-League. Only 4 of the 23 players in last year’s Confederations Cup squad had been based abroad. The centre half-pairing of Gamba Osaka’s Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and Yokohama’s Yuji Nakazawa had been solid throughout a qualification campaign which conceded just 5 objectives but Brazil, Croatia and Australia will offer a a lot sterner test. Portsmouth flop Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, made the scapegoat following Pompey lost 4-1 at house to Leyton Orient on his debut, has featured more than 80 times in objective for his country. Japan may be victims of their own current good results and expectation will probably be fantastic at this year’s finals. Whilst there is plenty of talent in midfield, the team as a entire might not be as much as emulating their group topping exploits of 4 years ago and are unlikely to figure within the knockout stages. Recommended Bet An unconvincing qualification campaign and a lack of goals from the two strikers means Japan cannot be backed to qualify from the group. Actually, they could be propping up the rest by the time the three initial round matches are completed and backing against them could be a much better investment than supporting them. Croatia to beat Japan @ 4/5 By on

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