Japan 2014 FIFA World Cup Squad: Player-by-Player Guide

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IMay 13, 2014

Japan 2014 FIFA World Cup Squad: Player-by-Player Guide

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    East Asian giants Japan head into the 2014 World Cup with a point to prove, having greatly impressed at the Confederations Cup last summer only to exit at the group stages.

    Alberto Zaccheroni's side must now show that, on the biggest of all footballing stages, they can supply the substance to match their impressive style and performance.

    The Samurai Blue have opted to take a fairly young squad to Brazil, with only one survivor from the 2006 World Cup in Germany among their ranks. They will, though, be able to call upon 12 players who ply their trade in some of Europe's biggest leagues.

    Who, then, are the 23 men Japan will take to Brazil this summer?

Eiji Kawashima

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    Name: Eiji Kawashima

    Date of Birth: 20 March 1983

    Birthplace: Yono, Saitama

    Position: Goalkeeper

    Caps: 54

    Club: Standard Liege

    Brief Bio: Asian sides have not been traditionally renowned for their goalkeeping. However, in Kawashima, Japan have a gloveman not only playing in Europe but excelling for one of the continent's most traditional clubs.

    This summer's World Cup will be his second appearance at the finals, while he was also first choice for his country in their Asian Cup triumph of 2011. A fine shot-stopper who is also neat and tidy in all his all-round game, Japan can rest easy in the knowledge they have a reliable presence between the sticks this summer.

Shusaku Nishikawa

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    Name: Shusaku Nishikawa

    Date of Birth: 18 June 1986

    Birthplace: Usa, Oita

    Position: Goalkeeper

    Caps: 12

    Club: Urawa Reds

    Brief Bio: One of the J.League's most assured goalkeepers, Nishikawa has a wealth of domestic experience to his name courtesy of more than 100 league appearances for both Oita Trinity and Sanfrecce Hiroshima. As of this season, though, he represents frequent title challengers Urawa Reds.

    Nishikawa has some tournament experience to his name, having been Japan's starting 'keeper at both the 2008 Olympic Games and 2013 East Asian Cup, which Japan won. He also claimed a winners' medal as backup for Kawashima at the 2011 Asian Cup and will be familiar with the expectations of his role in the coming weeks.

Shuichi Gonda

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    Name: Shuichi Gonda

    Date of Birth: 3 March 1989

    Birthplace: Setagaya, Tokyo

    Position: Goalkeeper

    Caps: 2

    Club: FC Tokyo

    Brief Bio: The youngest and least experienced of the three goalkeepers Japan will take to the competition, Gonda has been in and around the national team setup since his debut in 2010. With a raft of youth caps to his name, he has long been well-regarded by the Japan camp.

    A starter for FC Tokyo since early 2009, Gonda has five seasons of regular J.League activity to his name and was also involved in the Japan squads at the 2011 Asian Cup and 2013 East Asian Cup, both of which they won. He will be unlikely to feature this summer but is a well-regarded long-term member of Zaccheroni's squad.

Atsuto Uchida

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    Name: Atsuto Uchida

    Date of Birth: 27 March 1988

    Birthplace: Kannami, Shizuoka

    Position: Right-back

    Caps: 65

    Club: Schalke 04

    Brief Bio: A member of the Japan national team since 2008, 26-year-old Uchida also possesses four years of invaluable experience in the Bundesliga that will be of great value to his side this summer.

    Despite playing much of qualifying for the competition, the attacking full-back was an unused squad member for Japan in South Africa four years ago. If fully fit, he will be an important first-team member this time around but has not played since February due to a thigh injury.

Yuto Nagatomo

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    Name: Yuto Nagatomo

    Date of Birth: 12 September 1986

    Birthplace: Saijo, Ehime

    Position: Left-back

    Caps: 67

    Club: Inter Milan

    Brief Bio: On the opposite flank to Uchida, Japan boast another player of great international experience in Inter full-back Yuto Nagatomo. Having just completed his fourth season at the San Siro, he remains one of the leading Japanese stars at the top level of the European game.

    A forward-thinking full-back, Nagatomo will have to curb his attacking instincts somewhat if Japan are put under the cosh this summer. He will, though, be an invaluable outlet on the left flank which he covers with much aplomb for both club and country. An impressive performer in 2010, this summer will be his second appearance at a World Cup finals.

Hiroki Sakai

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    Name: Hiroki Sakai

    Date of Birth: 12 April 1990

    Birthplace: Kashiwa, Chiba

    Position: Right-back

    Caps: 15

    Club: Hannover 96

    Brief Bio: Fresh from his second season with Bundesliga side Hannover, Sakai comes into the tournament full of confidence having made 26 starts for the German side in an impressive campaign.

    Sakai will likely act as Uchida's primary backup for the tournament and is well-equipped for the role, possessing similar attacking instincts and plentiful experience of his own. He can also look to draw upon his tournament experience garnered at the 2012 Olympics where Japan claimed an impressive fourth-place finish.

Gotoku Sakai

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    Name: Gotoku Sakai

    Date of Birth: 14 March 1991

    Birthplace: New York

    Position: Right-back/Left-back

    Caps: 12

    Club: VfB Stuttgart

    Brief Bio: If it wasn't for the presence of the reliable Nagatomo and Uchida, the other Sakai in Japan's squad would surely have many more caps to his name after three seasons as a regular in the Bundesliga for Stuttgart.

    Capable of playing on either side of the defence, USA-born Sakai is tipped to play a major role for his country in the coming years and is an ideal man to have around the squad at a major tournament. Sakai was another to feature for his country at the 2012 London Olympics.

Maya Yoshida

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    Name: Maya Yoshida

    Date of Birth: 24 August 1988

    Birthplace: Nagasaki

    Position: Centre-back

    Caps: 38

    Club: Southampton

    Brief Bio: Japan's sole European-based centre-back, Yoshida has been on the books of Southampton since 2010 after a spell in Netherlands with VVV-Venlo.

    However, the past year has been difficult for the 25-year-old, with the signing of Dejan Lovren having seen him fall out of the club's regular starting lineup. The technically impressive defender will need to front up physically this summer and finally put to bed doubts about his ability at this level.

Yasuyuki Konno

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    Name: Yasuyuki Konno

    Date of Birth: 25 January 1983

    Birthplace: Sendai, Miyagi

    Position: Centre-back

    Caps: 78

    Club: Gamba Osaka

    Brief Bio: The most experienced of Japan's defensive options, Konno made his senior international debut in 2005 and has appeared on a regular basis for the Samurai Blue since 2007, including a starting role in success at the 2011 Asian Cup.

    Despite featuring in qualification, Konno did not appear at the 2010 World Cup but will likely partner Yoshida this time around. If needed, he could also occupy a full-back or midfield role, but that would seem unlikely given the other options available.

Masahiko Inoha

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    Name: Masahiko Inoha

    Date of Birth: 28 August 1985

    Birthplace: Miyazaki

    Position: Centre-back

    Caps: 20

    Club: Jubilo Iwata

    Brief Bio: Inoha made his Japan debut in 2011, having also earned a move to Hajduk Split through his impressive form with Kashima Antlers, appearing once in his country's success at the Asian Cup of the same year.

    Over the last three years, he has continued to play a rotation role in the national team setup, gradually picking up caps and experience. However, he remains relatively untested in competitive games.

Masato Morishige

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    Name: Masato Morishige

    Date of Birth: 21 May 1987

    Birthplace: Hiroshima

    Position: Centre-back

    Caps: 7

    Club: FC Tokyo

    Brief Bio: Since making an impressive start to his international career as part of a squad of Japan-based players sent to the 2013 East Asian Cup, Morishige has become a regular figure in and around the international squad.

    A veteran of Japan's campaign at the 2012 Summer Olympics, his chance could come if either Konno or Yoshida endure a rocky start to the tournament. As one of the J.League's top-rated local players, he already has fans pushing his case at home.

Yasuhito Endo

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    Name: Yasuhito Endo

    Date of Birth: 28 January 1980

    Birthplace: Kagoshima

    Position: Defensive midfield

    Caps: 141

    Club: Gamba Osaka

    Brief Bio: Japan's only survivor from the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Endo has since gone on to become the most capped player in the history of the Japan national team.

    Endo's best moment at a World Cup came with a stunning free-kick strike in the group stage of the 2010 competition in South Africa, helping his side defeat Denmark and qualify for the second round. His calm distribution skills from the base of midfield will be important to Zaccheroni's side this summer.

Makoto Hasebe

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    Name: Makoto Hasebe

    Date of Birth: 18 January 1984

    Birthplace: Fujieda, Shizuoka

    Position: Defensive midfield

    Caps: 77

    Club: Nurnberg

    Brief Bio: Having just completed his seventh Bundesliga campaign, midfielder Hasebe completes what will be a highly experienced base to the Samurai Blue in Brazil. Having also competed in 2010, it will be his second outing at a World Cup competition.

    A combative presence, Hasebe will be key to the Japanese defensive setup in providing a shield for his back four. He will look to then distribute the ball quickly to his side's more creative ball players.

Hotaru Yamaguchi

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    Name: Hotaru Yamaguchi

    Date of Birth: 6 October 1990

    Birthplace: Nabari, Mie

    Position: Defensive midfield

    Caps: 9

    Club: Cerezo Osaka

    Brief Bio: Talented midfield distributor Yamaguchi will likely take over the reigns as Japan's deep-lying playmaker from Endo post-tournament, having excelled since being handed his first international opportunity at last year's East Asian Cup. He was named Player of the Tournament at the event.

    For Cerezo Osaka, he has continued his rise to prominence with a series of good performances in the 2014 AFC Champions League and will be one of Japan's younger players hoping to catch the eye in Brazil.

Toshihiro Aoyama

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    Name: Toshihiro Aoyama

    Date of Birth: 22 February 1986

    Birthplace: Kurashiki, Okayama

    Position: Defensive midfield

    Caps: 4

    Club: Sanfrecce Hiroshima

    Brief Bio: One of those who would have been sweating on his inclusion right up until the squad announcement, Aoyama was somewhat surprisingly chosen for the competition ahead of Germany-based Hajime Hosogai.

    Over recent seasons, Aoyama's performances in J.League action have been consistently impressive, while he is another who earned his long-term chance with a good showing at the 2013 East Asian Cup. If he gets on the pitch, he has many to convince that he was the right selection.

Shinji Kagawa

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    Name: Shinji Kagawa

    Date of Birth: 17 March 1989

    Birthplace: Kobe, Hyogo

    Position: Attacking midfield

    Caps: 54

    Club: Manchester United

    Brief Bio: Japan has only a couple of true global stars, one of whom is Manchester United's Kagawa. A twice winner of the Bundesliga and Premier League champion in 2013, no Japanese player can compete with Kagawa's European achievements.

    While he made his international debut as a teenager in 2008, Kagawa narrowly missed out on selection for the 2010 tournament while still a Cerezo player. He has since become integral to the playing style of the Samurai Blue and will hope to make a mark at his first World Cup this summer.

Keisuke Honda

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    Name: Keisuke Honda

    Date of Birth: 13 June 1986

    Birthplace: Settsu, Osaka

    Position: Attacking midfield

    Caps: 53

    Club: AC Milan

    Brief Bio: The golden boy of Japanese football, AC Milan midfielder Honda enters the tournament as the second highest scorer within the Japan squad and the central playmaker of Zaccheroni's side.

    Honda has not enjoyed the best of times since moving from CSKA Moscow to the Rossoneri in January, with Clarence Seedorf's side unable to shake themselves out of their season-long malaise. He will hope to recapture top form once more as part of a silky smooth Japan attacking unit in Brazil.

Hiroshi Kiyotake

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    Name: Hiroshi Kiyotake

    Date of Birth: 12 November 1989

    Birthplace: Oita

    Position: Attacking midfield

    Caps: 24

    Club: Nurnberg

    Brief Bio: Creative midfielder Kiyotake is extremely unfortunate that his emergence as an attacking player of considerable quality has also coincided with Honda and Kagawa making their way to the top of the European game. In any other era, he would be a guaranteed starter.

    Kiyotake's previous international experience is limited to the Olympic Games as far as major tournaments are concerned, but he is building a considerable reputation in Germany. A good tournament from the bench in Brazil and he could find that offers begin flooding in.

Manabu Saito

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    Name: Manabu Saito

    Date of Birth: 4 April 1990

    Birthplace: Kanagawa

    Position: Attacking midfield

    Caps: 4

    Club: Yokohama F.Marinos

    Brief Bio: One of the next group of technically gifted Japanese talents bound for Europe, Yokohama attacking midfielder Saito announced his arrival on the international scene with a stunning strike against Australia at the 2013 East Asian Cup.

    The diminutive playmaker not only dribbles well and links play effectively, he also has an eye for goal. In the AFC Champions League this year, he has produced a couple of spectacular efforts to further reinforce his status as a rising star of Japanese football.

Shinji Okazaki

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    Name: Shinji Okazaki

    Date of Birth: 16 April 1986

    Birthplace: Hyogo

    Position: Forward

    Caps: 73

    Club: Mainz 05

    Brief Bio: Heading to his second World Cup finals this summer, Okazaki will enter the tournament full of confidence following a stunning season in which he found the net 15 times in the Bundesliga. It was his fourth season in the division and his best to date.

    Okazaki will likely play from the right of the Japan attack and will be encouraged to work hard in support of the central striker. His 38 international goals are comfortably more than any other player in the squad while his experience could prove vital should Japan advance in the competition.

Yoshito Okubo

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    Name: Yoshito Okubo

    Date of Birth: 9 June 1982

    Birthplace: Kanda, Fukuoka

    Position: Forward

    Caps: 54

    Club: Kawasaki Frontale

    Brief Bio: Former Mallorca and Wolfsburg striker Okubo has been in the international wilderness over the past couple of years, having rarely featured since the 2010 finals. His goalscoring heroics for Frontale, for whom he scored 27 times in 2013, have earned him a last-minute recall.

    The diminutive forward is unlikely to start for his country but will hope to play a role from the substitutes' bench. On current form, if Japan need a goal, he is the ideal man to whom they can turn.

Yoichiro Kakitani

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    Name: Yoichiro Kakitani

    Date of Birth: 3 January 1990

    Birthplace: Osaka

    Position: Forward

    Caps: 9

    Club: Cerezo Osaka

    Brief Bio: The latest major attacking talent to emerge at Cerezo, following the path of both Kagawa and Kiyotake, versatile forward Kakitani propelled himself to the forefront of Zaccheroni's thinking with his Top Goalscorer award at the 2013 East Asian Cup.

    His J.League goals have virtually dried up for the time being this season, but he has made a major impact for his side on the bigger AFC Champions League stage. A European move this summer looks probable and a good World Cup will only add to that likelihood.

Yuya Osako

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    Name: Yuya Osako

    Date of Birth: 18 May 1990

    Birthplace: Kaseda, Kagoshima

    Position: Forward

    Caps: 9

    Club: 1860 Munich

    Brief Bio: With his January move to German side 1860 Munich, Osako is the Japanese squad member who most recently completed his move to Europe. After a breakthrough year with the national team in 2013, he has quickly impressed in his new surrounds with six goals in 15 games.

    Osako will compete with Kakitani for the starting striker berth in Zaccheroni's side, having also impressed at the East Asian Cup last summer. A hat-trick against Sao Paulo in the Suruga Bank trophy further highlighted his potential, but the World Cup will be his biggest stage yet.