Japan may never be the punters’ favourite to pick up the World Cup trophy. But with some impressive performances in qualifiers, and a relatively easy group, we think that Japan could make it through to the knock-out stages of the FIFA 2018 World Cup. It will be the sixth successive time that we will have seen Japan at the World Cup, and the Asian side have had a good record of putting in some memorable performances.
But with recent managerial changes and concerns about star players, it’s going to be tough to predict how they will get on in Russia this summer. So read our team guide to Japan, and see if they can help you land a winning bet at the FIFA 2018 World Cup.
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Japan prediction: How well will they do?
Although Japan have never managed to get further than the second round of a World Cup, the side have been given a helping hand in their efforts for 2018 as they’ve landed in the relatively favourable Group H. This group will see them playing against the likes of Colombia, Senegal and Poland, and it’s hoped that the Asian team will have what it takes to make it to the next round.
Japan’s first World Cup match takes place against Colombia in Saransk on 19 June. The Colombian side will be looking to repeat their strong form of the 2014 World Cup, but their tricky path through the World Cup qualifiers shows that Colombia still have a few issues to overcome. In particular, it’s the fact that Colombia’s defence is relatively old which could make it easy for young Japanese strikers like Yuya Kubo to outpace them on the counterattack.
Once Japan have dealt with Colombia, they then have to travel to Yekaterinburg to take on Senegal on 24 June. Japan have managed to cultivate a strong defence recently, but it remains to be seen whether they have what it takes to hold back the formidable talents of Senegal star striker, Sadio Mané. Despite this, we can expect Japan to hold firm in the midfield where respected players like Shinji Kagawa should be able to make their valuable World Cup experience count in what will be a critical game.
Japan’s final Group H game takes place in Volgograd on 28 June. This will see them taking on Poland and we think that Japan could possibly have what it takes to create a bit of an upset here. Whilst all of the attention may be on stars like Robert Lewandowski, the Polish defence has been remarkably leaky, and Japan certainly didn’t suffer from a lack of goalscoring in their qualifiers. In addition to this, Poland’s form since last October hasn’t been too impressive, and so there could be an upset on the cards.
Whilst Group H is one of the easiest groups, it would still take some luck for Japan to get through to the second round. But as William Hill currently have Japan as the outsiders at 7/1 to win Group H, there could be a few punters who could shock the bookies by backing the promising Japanese side.
Journey to the World Cup — Who did Japan beat to qualify?
Japan managed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup fairly easily by coming ahead of the likes of Australia and Saudi Arabia in the Group B qualifiers. Whilst a string of high scoring games meant that Japan enjoyed an impressive goal difference, it wasn’t a faultless performance from the team.
There was plenty of disquiet in the Japanese camp after a shocking 2-1 home defeat by UAE in the third-round openers, and they ended their campaign with a 1-0 away loss to Saudi Arabia. Despite these embarrassing moments, Japan managed to perform well when it counted with impressive scorelines such as their 4-0 routing of Thailand keeping them at the top of the table.
However, Japan’s most captivating moment of their World Cup campaign came when they managed to finally beat Australia to gain automatic qualification. It was the first time that Japan had beaten Australia in a World Cup qualifier, and with a goal and an assist from young star, Yosuke Ideguchi, it showed that you should never bet against Japan on home soil.
Best players for Japan: Who should you be betting on?
Whilst the side’s usual captain, Makoto Hasebe, has struggled with injury and looks unlikely to be ready for Russia, there are plenty more great Japanese players who you should be familiar with. Shinji Kagawa has made the successful move from Manchester United to Borussia Dortmund, and he will be playing a key role in setting up the attack.
NetBet currently have Kagawa at 195/1 to pick up the Golden Boot, and whilst this might be unlikely, there are plenty of other stars who make up an unpredictable Japanese attack. Players like Genki Haraguchi, and Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki could cause some serious problems for their opponents this summer, and fast-paced youngsters like Yosuke Ideguchi can also be devastating on the counter attack.
However, much of Japan’s recent success has been put down to their impressive defensive qualities. In particular, it’s defenders like Maya Yoshida who have helped Japan maintain such an enviable goal difference, whilst we expect Hotaru Yamaguchi to once again take control of the midfield.
Who manages Japan?
Sacking your manager two months before a World Cup is rarely a good idea. However, with dismal friendly performances against the likes of Ukraine and Mali, it seemed that Vahid Halilhodzic’s time was up with Japan. The Bosnian manager often had a troubled relationship with the star players, and it was these communication issues that led to him being shown the door.
So it falls to Akira Nishino to somehow steer the Japanese side back onto safe ground with just two friendlies against Paraguay and Switzerland before the World Cup kicks off in June. The technical director of the Japanese Football Association has had little experience of managing a team at international level. But it looks like he’s already managing to make amends for Halilhodzic’s troubled time by ensuring that stars like Kagawa and Okazaki get their places back in the team.
Why bet on Japan?
Japan may look unlikely to win the 2018 World Cup, but there are plenty of bookies who are putting on decent odds for this Asian team. Coral currently have Japan at 200/1 to pick up the World Cup trophy, and whilst this is extremely unlikely, it does illustrate the fact that the Japanese team are capable of putting in some impressive performances.
We think that Japan stand a fair chance of making it through to the second round, as you can imagine them putting in a shock result against any of their Group H rivals. European teams like Poland always seem to underestimate sides like Japan, and we would expect Japan to quickly take advantage of any lax play from their opponents. So if Akira Nishino manages to quickly rejuvenate his team, we could hope for Japan to create some great footballing upsets this summer.
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