The former Japan defender played (albeit briefly) in the qualifiers for the 1986 World Cup and has followed a 12-year cycle since. He led Japan to their first World Cup in 1998 having taken over in mid-campaign from Shu Kamo and repeated the performance by taking over from Ivica Osim in 2008 as the 2010 campaign was about to begin.
Caps: 8 Goals: 0
Kawashima knows all about his main rival – he played under Narazaki at Grampus from 2004-6! He is highly rated in every department from acrobatic saves, big kicks and steady handling to fine ball skills and leadership qualities. A regular on the Osim bench for Japan through 2007, he won his first cap under Okada in February, 2008.
Caps: 74 Goals: 0
Narazaki debuted for Japan in 1996 and is heading for his fourth World Cup but only actually played in 2002. A keeper who is rarely flustered, with good positional sense and strong in the air, he competed for much of his career with the more dynamic Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi but has stayed the course and now rarely misses a game except for injury.
Caps: 116 Goals: 0
A broken leg sustained in a J-League clash against Kyoto Sanga appeared to have sidelined him for the rest of the season thus ruling him out of the tournament. However, he made a full and speedy recovery. Unlikely that he will be the first-choice goalkeeper, but remains captain of the Japan national football team
Caps: 2 Goals: 0
Iwamasa became a regular on Okada’s bench from September last year and is likely to be included as the specialist back-up centre back. There is no question about his credentials as a key player in Kashima Antlers’ 3
consecutive J. League titles. Tall, strong in the air and tough, he has been almost ever-present for Antlers since 2005.
Caps: 51 Goals: 0
Komano became a regular back-up player under Zico and played against Australia in 2006 when Akira Kaji was injured. Right-footed (but left-handed), he is an experienced, rugged, hard-running full back who is best on the right but can handle either wing. Constantly retained by Osim
and Okada as well, he is a key squad member.
Caps: 34 Goals: 0
Konno was an Okada protégé at Consadole Sapporo. He now plays at centre back for FC Tokyo but is equally at home in rear midfield or full-back positions. A resolute tackler with outstanding positional sense, he provides an
essential option for many different scenarios. First capped by Zico, Konno became a regular squad member under Osim.
Caps: 22 Goals: 3
Okada inducted Beijing Olympic full back Nagatomo to the national team when he changed course from the Osim style in May 2008. A quick, busy, athletic runner, Nagatomo also challenges and tackles with surprising strength for such a small player. He is right-footed but can play on either wing and is mostly used by Okada on the left.
Caps: 101 Goals: 17
Japan’s most experienced defender made his debut for Japan in 1999 and has remained almost ever-present since 2003, despite toying with international
retirement after the last World Cup. A solid centre back with good timing moving forward, he also scores a lot for both club and country and is a man to watch at those Shunsuke set-pieces.
Marcus TULIO Tanaka
Caps: 37 Goals: 7
Nakazawa’s regular partner at centre back, Tulio was born in Brazil but has Japanese blood and was naturalised in 2003. A hard tackling player who also loves to surge forward, he is a leader who makes up in passion what he lacks
in speed and can lift the whole team. Osim brought him into the team directly after the 2006 World Cup.
Caps: 31 Goals: 1
Brought straight in when Okada took over in 2008, Uchida has remained the first choice at right full back since. His career already includes 3 league titles but his health has also been frail and Okada coordinates closely with
Antlers to keep his protégé fit and well. Uchida’s speed and crosses are vital weapons for both club and country.
Caps: 41 Goals: 3
Abe, like Konno, can be used anywhere in defence or rear midfield. At 16, in 1998, he was the J. League’s then youngest ever player. Abe covers and distributes well, has good dead ball skills and also makes a useful target man at set pieces. He has rarely been out of the squad since 2005 but just
failed to make the cut for the 2006 World Cup.
Caps: 90 Goals: 8
The 2009 Asian Player of the Year combines exquisite ball control and creative distribution skills with the ability to pop up where least expected. He shares the role of dead ball specialist with Shunsuke Nakamura and can play in either rear or attacking midfield. He has been almost ever present for Japan since Zico took charge in 2002.
VfL Wolfsburg (Ger)
Caps: 28 Goals: 1
Hasebe burst onto the scene as a lithe dribbler and chance maker. He debuted for Japan just before the 2006 World Cup but did not make the cut. A hard-runner and burlier now, his defensive qualities have also grown and he has become a key player in rear midfield. He won the AFC Champions League with Urawa and Bundesliga with Wolfsburg.
CSKA Moscow (Rus)
Caps: 12 Goals: 4
Japan’s secret weapon has become public property since his move to CSK. A powerfully built, swift attacking midfielder with a fine cross and eye for goal, Honda adds physical weight to the team. Okada was using him as an alternative to Shunsuke in right midfield but Honda shone in the middle behind Okazaki against Bahrain in March.
Caps: 78 Goals: 5
The well-travelled defensive midfielder is heading for his third World Cup. He is back in Japan this year via clubs in England, Wales, Turkey, Germany
and France, starting with Arsenal and ending with Stade Rennais. Despite his goals in 2002, his game is chiefly about blocking and then incisively sending or bringing and the ball forward.
Grenoble Foot 38 (Fra)
Caps: 22 Goals: 1
Matsui hasn’t seen much national team action despite playing under all of Troussier, Zico and Osim, perhaps being a little too out of sight in France since 2004, but the call-ups have increased under Okada and his speed, creative running, dribbling, passing and ball possession skills provide an important attacking option in left midfield.
Caps: 45 Goals: 5
Kengo Nakamura is remarkably similar to his namesake in build, skills and playing style, a master of the telling through ball and long shot. First called up by Osim in October 2006, he has been rarely out of the team ever since but broke his jaw at the start of this season and cannot expect much J. League action before the World Cup.
Caps: 94 Goals: 24
Everyone knows Nakamura’s left foot. Japan’s most famous player was first called up by Okada in 1998 and played regularly for Troussier but 2006 was his first World Cup. His game grew in Italy and Scotland and he could be Japan’s most dangerous player in South Africa. He struggled in Spain but has made a spectacular return to the J. League.
Caps: 16 Goals: 2
Made his international debut as a sub against Peru in March 2007. First international goal was an injury time winner against Switzerland on September 11, 2007 in a friendly played in Klagenfurt.
Calcio Catania (It.)
Caps: 3 Goals: 1
Morimoto made his debut for Tokyo Verdy under Ossie Ardiles at the age of 15. Now in his fourth season at Catania, he played at the Beijing Olympics but had rather dropped off the map until last October’s debut against Scotland. He scored his first goal against Togo four days later. He has the height, strength and power to enliven the attack.
Caps: 24 Goals: 16
Okazaki was the world’s top scoring national team striker with 15 goals in 2009 in his first full year playing for Japan. He is a quick, tireless runner with fine positioning skills and scoring instincts, both provider and receiver of crosses, always hard to mark and able to pop up with a deft touch, powerful drive or diving header in front of goal.
Caps: 46 Goals: 5
Okubo was the angry young man when he burst onto the J. League scene. He debuted for Japan at the start of Zico’s reign and played for Mallorca from 2004-6 and VfL Wolfsburg in 2008-9. Short and burly, he is a quick, ferocious runner and Okada regular who finds and makes plenty of space but his own lack of goals raises questions.
Caps: 67 Goals: 16
A quick dribbler and passer with a fine opportunistic shot, he was a regular for Zico and scored a memorable goal against Brazil in 2006. That was his last game for Japan for nearly two years as Osim never chose him but he is now starts regularly again. Not so strong in contact play, he is best and even acrobatic with the ball at his feet.