Ranking Japan's Top 5 World Cup Moments
As Japan gear up to start their 2014 World Cup campaign on Day 3 with a tough fixture against Cote d'Ivoire, it's worth remembering that this will only be the Blue Samurai's fifth ever World Cup finals.
Having not entered or qualified for any World Cup finals prior to 1998, Japan went to France and finished their maiden campaign with no wins on the board.
Four tournaments on, Japan are now a proud representative of Asia in the World Cup; however, a tricky Group C also featuring Colombia and Greece may prove to be a challenge to their aims of qualifying for the knockout rounds for a third time.
Let's look back at Japan's top five World Cup moments.
5. First World Cup Match (1998)
In June 14, 1998, Japan played in a World Cup finals for the first time.
Group H featured two tough opponents, Argentina and Croatia, whose squads were arguably up there with the best in France that year. Indeed, Croatia ended up finishing third overall.
Yet for Japan to make their way to their first ever World Cup finals was a feat in itself, and against an Argentina side featuring some of their all-time greats—Gabriel Batistuta scored the 28th-minute winner—Takeshi Okada's side more than held their own at times, with goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi looking impressive throughout.
The match ended 1-0 to the South Americans, but for the Japanese, it was just a beginning of things to come in the world's most high-profile football tournament.
4. Keisuke Honda Wins It Against Cameroon (2010)
In the summer of 2010 Keisuke Honda had only moved to Russian club CSKA Moscow for six months, having become a crowd favorite in the Dutch Eredivisie with VVV-Venlo.
It's a good thing CSKA had snapped him up by then, because Honda would go on to impress many onlookers and pundits in South Africa with two goals, the first of which came against Cameroon in their opening match.
Now at AC Milan and no longer just a rising star in Japanese football, Honda will be an important player for the Blue Samurai in their 2014 campaign.
Let's hope we'll see another goal or two from him.
3. First Qualification for the Knockout Stages (2002)
Coming third in this list is a historic moment in Japanese football history: their first ever qualification for the knockout stages in 2002, when they co-hosted the tournament with South Korea.
Playing in front of a capacity crowd in Osaka, Japan dominated proceedings against Tunisia and ran out 2-0 winners, courtesy of goals from Hiroaki Morishima and midfield star Hidetoshi Nakata.
Their first World Cup campaign on home soil—and their second ever—had turned out surprisingly well, so much so that they only needed a draw on the day to progress to the next stage.
In the end, the victory ensured that they would finish at the top of Group H.
2. First World Cup Win (2002)
En route to taking Japan to the round of 16, Philippe Troussier also masterminded their first ever victory in the World Cup.
Junichi Inamoto was the hero of the day, as his 50th-minute goal proved to be the winner against Russia in the impressive International Yokohama Stadium.
That their first World Cup win came against established opposition in the Russians was made all the more impressive as Japan were deserved winners, with only the crossbar denying Nakata a 25-yard screamer to double their lead.
1. Free-Kick Stunners Beat Denmark (2010)
When discussing Japan's finest World Cup moment, however, there is only one standout candidate: their convincing 3-1 win over Denmark in the group stages of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Keisuke Honda, who had given Japan the win over Cameroon a few days earlier, opened the scoring with a stunning 30-yard free kick, while Yasuhito Endo followed up with his own curler beyond Thomas Sorensen.
Jon Dahl Tomasson pulled a goal back for Denmark on 81 minutes, but Shinji Okazaki scored a third for Japan on 87 minutes to hand the Blue Samurai an excellent win over a strong Denmark side to finish second in Group E, behind the Netherlands.