World Cup 2014: Japan Preview - can Kagawa rediscover his form?

Japan Players 2008 Celebrate

Japan were the first Asian team to make it to the 2014 World Cup, but what can we expect to see from Alberto Zaccheroni's side?

Japan are an exciting side but find themselves matched up with tricky opponents in Colombia, Ivory Coast and Greece. We will once again watch Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa in action, but after another disappointing campaign, can the former Borussia Dortmund star bounce back to get his side out of the group stage? Here is your in-depth preview to Japan's World Cup campaign...

The perception

With a number of flair players such as Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Hiroshi Kiyotake, the Japanese can turn on the style against weaker opponents, whilst they also have the hard work and endeavour to cause some of the bigger teams problems too. However, they will rely to heavily on Kagawa and Honda for goals from midfield, and without a top striker, they may come up short.

The reality

In a tough group alongside Colombia, Ivory Coast and Greece, we can now see what Alberto Zaccheroni's side are made of. The lack of a truly great defence is an issue, but there a couple of strikers emerging that could finally help in the attacking department. Japan may need strong contributions from 24-year-old forwards Yoichiro Kakitani and Yuya Osako in order to progress.

Strengths

A team who played attractive football, Japan have pace and skill in attack and will be relying upon household names Kagawa and Honda to drive them forward. The pair are capable of scoring from anywhere, and form part of a side that has a sense of cohesion having been together for a while, whilst manager Zaccheroni is also an experienced coach who has guided Japan to the Asian Cup title.

Weaknesses

There isn't one player in the Japanese side who can be consistently relied upon for goals. That will mean more onus on the likes of Honda and Kagawa for goals, as the pair have a combined 37 goals for their country. Defensively, Japan have a number of players who ply their trade in Europe; Standard Liege goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, Schalke's Atsuto Uchida, Yuto Nagatomo of Inter Milan and Southampton's Maya Yoshia need to prove that they can hold up against the big boys.

Key Player

With Kagawa largely in-and-out of the Manchester United side this season, the key man for Japan will be AC Milan playmaker Keisuke Honda. The former CSKA Moscow star possesses a sensational left foot, and has devastating ability from set pieces and when shooting from range. The second top scorer in the Japan squad, Honda will need to be on top form for Japan to impress.

One to Watch

Rumoured Arsenal target Yoichiro Kakitani will be looking to impress having hit 41 goals in two seasons for Cerezo Osaka, and with Japan lacking a true centre forward, Kakitani could develop into their saviour. Another name to keep an eye out for is Nuremberg playmaker Hiroshi Kiyotake. The Bundesliga side were relegated this season, and after impressing with his set pieces in Germany, he has the chance to put himself in the shop window.

Verdict

In a difficult group to call, Japan will be vying with Colombia and Ivory Coast for qualification into the last 16. Where those two sides have the upper hand though is in front of goal. They both have the ability and personnel to outscore the Japanese, and with a potentially flimsy defence, Japan will really need strong contributions from Kagawa and Honda to get through - and even then, it may not be enough.

Predicted line-up

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