Building up to the World Cup in South Africa, A
Okada will be managing in his second World Cup having previously overseen the Blue Samurai in World Cup 98. Okada took over the role as Japan’s national Coach in 2007 after the previous boss Ivica Osim suffered a stroke. He faces a massive challenge to get his team through the group stages of the competition and will hope his big name players step up to the plate.
In goal the Japanese can call upon an experienced goalkeeper in Seigo Narazaki who has played 74 times for the Blue Samurai and will be playing in his fourth World Cup. He is a reliable keeper and is unlikely to make any major mistakes to lose the No.1 spot. However, his spot could be pressurized by the return from injury of Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi who has over 100 caps for the Blue Samurai. Although the former Portsmouth keeper has missed most of the season with a broken leg, Okada believes his presence in the squad may bring the best out of the other keepers. The other option open to Okada is Eiji Kawashima who will be there as an understudy.
If Japan struggle to find the net they must be able to keep other teams out. At the heart of the defence is the Japanese captain Yuji Nakazawa, who has over a 100 caps for his country, and much will be made of his leadership skills, especially as they will be the underdogs in the group, if not the tournament. He will be helped out in the back by Yuichi Komano who has previous World Cup experience and will most likely operate at left-back. Joining Nakazawa in the middle will be Marcus Tulio Tanaka who will provide solid service at centre-back and a goal-threat at set-pieces, as proved by his seven goals in 37 appearances to date. Filling the other full-back slot will be Atsuto Uchida who will look to get forward at any opportunity. Also, vying for a place in the back four will be Yasuyuki Konno, Daiki Iwamasa and Yuto Nagatomo who may get opportunites to play depending on the system Okada plays.
The Japanese’s hopes will rest on their experienced midfield. Former British-based players Junichi Inamoto and Shunsuke Nakamura will be the lifeblood of the team, particularly Nakamura who they will look to for creative inspiration, particularly from set-pieces. However, don’t be surprised to see contributions from Yasuhito Endo and Yuki Abe who are capable of attacking from deep in the midfield. These players will fill the four slots available in the midfield, however, if they fail to perform or the system changes, Okada will have Daisuke Matsui, Kengo Nakamura, Makoto Hasebe and Keisuke Honda to come in. Honda in particularly will be pushing for a starting berth after having a great start to his career at CSKA Moscow.
Up front Okada will hope that experienced striker Keiji Tamada will lead by example, as he spearheads a youthful looking frontline. With 16 goals in 67 games Tamada is far from prolific and may struggle against the organized defences of the Dutch and Danish sides they are due to face in Group E. Other goal threats include Shinji Okazaki who has had a great start to his international career with 16 goals in just 25 games. Expect these two to lead the line if Okada goes with two strikers, however, Tamada may get the nod due to his experience if the Blue Samurai go with a lone front-man. Other options open to Okada are Kisho Yano, Yoshito Okubo and Takayuki Morimoto but these players are unlikely to feature in Okada’s ideal team.