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Japan star Shinji Kagawa

FIFA World Cup preview: Japan

Japan has become a tidy rival and nemesis for Australia in recent years, but they have a job to do at the FIFA World Cup.

At their best, Japan plays a lightning-fast brand of football that could put any team on notice. But the thing is, Japan has not been anywhere near their best for some time.

Qualifying was laboured for Japan and their manager Vahid Halilhodzic sacked after qualification in a bid to breathe new life into their campaign.

But results like a 1-1 draw against Mali recently does not exactly inspire confidence.

Their pool is imminently winnable for all four teams, which generates some excitement for fans of the Blue Samurai. But this is a side with some ageing legs, some untested rookies and is sitting in a generational shift at the worst time.

How Japan fare should be revealed in their first match against Colombia. If they get hammered there, don't expect them to recover.

The draw for Japan

Colombia, June 19

Senegal, June 25

Poland, June 29

The star players

Japan does boast some genuine star power in Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) and Keisuke Honda (C.F. Pachuca), but both are starting to nudge their way into veteran territory.

The Blue Samurai will have to invest all of their efforts into these two players and hope their defensive line is strong enough to hold out opposition raids.

What needs to go right

A dramatic turnaround in form is required for Japan to make an impact here. But they struggled in 2014, were sluggish in qualification and have done nothing of note since.

Four nations sacked their manager after qualification, but Japan was the last one to do so. This means they are right behind the eight ball in preparation with a squad that is already struggling.

If new manager Akira Nishino can turn that around in mere months, he will be a hero in Japan.

About the Author Josh Alston

Josh Alston is a hack with over 12 years industry experience, covering sport across all codes for newspapers and online agencies. Known to frequent grade matches because of their cheap tinnies. Eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a Masters in sitting on the hill when the local cricket side was playing. Softball premiership winner, rugby league legend in Year 10 and no stranger to Doomben Racecourse.

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