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Japan World Cup Preview & Analysis: Schedule, Roster & Projections

Japan World Cup Preview & Analysis: Schedule, Roster & Projections article feature image

Pictured: Daichi Kamada.

  • Japan exited the 2018 World Cup in heartbreaking fashion against Belgium.
  • Will this shot at redemption be a successful one.
  • Read on for Anthony Dabbundo's full Japan team preview.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup has arrived, and Action Network's staff of soccer experts are here to take you through each and every team that will be participating. 

Read on for a full breakdown of Japan ahead of the tournament, and click here for analysis on each of the other 31 teams.

Japan World Cup Preview

Asia isn’t the most difficult region to qualify from, but Japan’s dominant win in a friendly against the United States should open some eyes to the quality of this team. Japan finished with the second most xG created in AFC World Cup Qualifying, and they conceded the fewest xG. Of the qualified Asian teams, Japan might not have the best chance to advance, but they appear to be the best team on paper. 

They did qualify for the Round of 16 at the last World Cup in a chaotic Group H where they advanced past Senegal based on a card accumulation tiebreaker. After taking a 2-0 lead on Belgium in the knockout phase, a second half collapse saw them lose 3-2 in stoppage time. 

The clubs that their best players represent don’t pop off the name sheet like Spain and Germany, but they play quite cohesively. Takumi Minamino hasn’t excelled at Monaco this season, but he’s been great for the national team in the past, and there is a reason Liverpool saw so much promise in him when they signed him. 

Chances To…Action Projectionsbet365 Odds
Win Group Stage4.21%+1400
Advance To Knockout Round22.06%+375
Win World Cup0.16%+25000
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Daichi Kamada is the main attacking creator for this side, and he’s always dangerous in transition. He’s now the primary creator at Eintracht Frankfurt with the departure of Filip Kostic. Two players to watch for potential breakouts for Japan are Brighton’s Kaoru Mitoma and Real Sociedad’s Takefusa Kubo

Kamada is well-trained to play in a Japan side that loves to press high and force turnovers to attack in transition. Don’t expect a ton of slow build-up play from this team, as they are at their best running at defenders and exploiting space in behind.

Japan are dealing with some injuries — namely center back Ko Itakura from Borussia Monchengladbach. He was in the midst of a breakout year in the Bundesliga, and his loss would be a significant blow. Even without him, Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu is one of the better ball-playing defenders in this entire tournament. 

Because their backup defender, Maya Yoshida, also has experience playing in the Premier League and now in the Bundesliga, don’t expect him to panic or be unwilling to pressure the opposition as well. 

It’s hard to see Japan get out of this group, but beating Costa Rica and pulling one upset with some excellent counterattacking is a clear formula to attempt to do so. Spain and Germany won’t be easy to beat, but neither team is without flaws. 

Key Player: Daichi Kamada 

Filip Kostic might have been the key cog in the attack for Frankfurt over the last few seasons, but Kamada was the key player in establishing the press and winning the ball high up the pitch. Frankfurt wouldn't have won the Europa League without Kamada, and Japan have little chance of getting out of this group without Kamada at his best. 

He does a little bit of everything for a pressing midfielder on a decent German team. Kamada runs without the ball, isn't afraid to put in a tackle and has solid ratings in aerials won. But Kamada also produces plus-shot numbers and xG for a midfielder who is more of an eight than a 10 in traditional soccer roles.  

Mason Mount is the kind of player that shows up on his similarities page. While Mount is generally a more productive passer in the league, they’re similar from a pressing and shots point of view. Kamada is asked to take on more of a progressive passing role when playing for Japan and he’s more than capable of executing that. 

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Tactical Analysis

The 4-2-3-1 is the preferred formation of Japan. But like most teams who press, there’s a lot of different variations depending on the possession situation and the location of the ball when the opposition has it. You have to be careful reading too much into one match, but Japan’s success in pressing the United States is their textbook identity. 

The American center backs had no clear outlets for what to do when on the ball. When the USMNT did get out of the press, a quick turnover led to Japan sending multiple players running forward. The goal is to turn every match into a bit of a Bundesliga game. That could be extremely effective in a World Cup with such a short turnaround time.

Japan could be difficult to game plan for in just a couple of days. If you’re a bit fatigued by the end of the group stage, Japan’s high intensity style can force miscues, too.

Matches will be won and lost for Japan in the transition moments. Because of the group that they are in with Spain and Germany, don’t expect them to have the ball often. They are fearless in their willingness to press, run and force high turnovers. If we know anything about Spain and Germany in this tournament, it’s that they can be vulnerable in the transition moments. 

Japan aren’t a team that plays a ton of long balls but similar to Jesse Marsch at Leeds, it’s a system focused on quick vertical passing and springing forward after a ball recovery.

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Japan World Cup Schedule

Germany8 a.m. ET, Nov. 23
Costa Rica5 a.m. ET, Nov. 27
Spain2 p.m. ET, Dec. 1

Most Recent World Cup Result

Round of 16 (2018)

Japan advanced out of the group stage on the thinnest of margins, getting past Senegal via having less yellow cards accumulated through three group stage games, but their Round of 16 loss to Belgium was remarkably painful. Japan let a 2-0 loss slip away in the 90 minutes as they fell 3-2.

Japan World Cup Roster

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