Japan will turn out at their seventh World Cup when they head to Qatar in the hope of going one step further than they managed in 2018.
They became the first Asian team to beat a side from South America as they beat Colombia and advanced from the group stage, but they fell to Belgium in the Round of 16 – the third time they have been eliminated at that stage.
Drawn in a tricky Group E alongside Spain, Germany and Costa Rica, Japan will have to be at their best if they are to make their stay in Qatar a long one.
Here’s what to expect from Japan at the World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Strasbourg), Daniel Schmidt (Sint Truiden), Shuichi Gonda (Shimizu S-Pulse)
Defenders: Hiroki Sakai (Urawa Red Diamonds), Miki Yamane (Kawasaki Frontale), Ko Itakura (Borussia Monchengladbach), Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal), Maya Yoshida (Schalke 04), Shogo Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale), Hiroki Ito (VfB Stuttgart), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo)
Midfielders: Junya Ito (Stade de Reims), Ritsu Doan (SC Freiburg), Wataru Endo (VfB Stuttgart), Hidemasa Morita (Sporting), Ao Tanaka (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt), Takefusa Kubo (Real Sociedad), Takumi Minamino (AS Monaco), Kaoru Mitoma (Brighton & Hove Albion), Gaku Shibasaki (Leganes), Yuki Soma (Nagoya Grampus)
Forwards: Takuma Asano (VfL Bochum), Daizen Maeda (Celtic), Ayase Ueda (Cercle Brugge), Shuto Machino (Shonan Bellmare)
Huddersfield Town centre-back Yuta Nakayama is the only confirmed absentee for Japan but manager Hajime Moriyasu has taken plenty of risks in his final 26-man squad.
Big names like Takefusa Kubo and Ao Tanaka have both been out injured and were considered doubts for the tournament, as are Takuma Asano and Ko Itakura. Whether any of them are forced to withdraw remains to be seen.
Most of Japan’s creativity runs through Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada, who has been among Europe’s top performers this season. He has seven goals and three assists in 22 outings for his country.
Now a household name following his move to Arsenal, Takehiro Tomiyasu will take charge at the other end of the pitch. He’s primarily a full-back at club level, but spends most of his time with Japan playing as a centre-back.
Winger Ritsu Doan joined Freiburg in the summer after several fun years on the books at PSV Eindhoven. He has three goals in 29 international appearances.
Somehow still only 21 years old, Takefusa Kubo plays all over for his country, such is his importance. Once billed as the Japanese Messi, Kubo scored his first goal for Japan during the summer in a friendly against Ghana.
Japan chop and change between a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1, but the fundamentals of their setup are always the same. It just depends on the level of their opponent.
Japan predicted XI: Schmidt; Sakai, Tomiyasu, Yoshida, Nakayama; Endo, Morita; Ito, Kamada, Kubo; Maeda.
Japan have divided their time between friendlies and the East Asian Football Championships, and they’ve had a pretty good time of things.
Aside from friendly defeats to Tunisia and Brazil, Japan have enjoyed a lot of success in 2022. They come into this one on a five-game unbeaten run which has seen them see off the USA and draw with Ecuador – both good tests for the World Cup.
Japan’s last five results (all competitions)
Japan 6-0 Hong Kong
Japan 0-0 China
Japan 3-0 South Korea
Japan 2-0 USA
Ecuador 0-0 Japan
Japan are a good side who just so happen to have been drawn in a group alongside two absolute behemoths.
You’d fancy them to get through from a lot of the other groups, but they’ll likely need a win over either Spain or Germany if they are to escape from this one, and that feels like a step too far for Moriyasu’s side.
They should beat Costa Rica and set themselves up for a shoot-out with Spain in the third game, but expect Japan to fall short.
Prediction: Group stage exit