The Japanese national football team has been the shining light for the Asian continent for over a decade now. From performing admirably at the international level to hosting a fantastic tournament at home, they have been there and done that.
Known as Soccer Nippon Dahiyo or Japanese Representatives of Soccer, fans have also referred to the team as the “Samurai Blue”. One of the topmost teams in Asia, Japan have begun to display their dominance on the world stage even.
Japan’s first major footballing milestone came at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games, held in Mexico City. The team went on to surprise world football by grabbing the Bronze Medal. Placed in a group that had Spain, Brazil and Nigeria, Japan qualified by beating Nigeria (3-1) and drawing with Brazil (1-1) and Spain (0-0)!
They went on to beat France (3-1) before finally falling to eventual winners, Hungary (0-5). Japan beat Mexico (2-0) to grab their Bronze medal from the tournament.
LONG WAIT FOR WC
Despite this spectacular effort, at the senior level, Japan were falling short of qualifying for the world cup every time. It wasn’t until 1991 that the Japan Soccer League, a semi-professional organization, was converted to the professional format of the J-League, which we know today.
Japan travelled to Doha for the final qualifying game for the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Their first-ever professional team lost narrowly to Iraq in a game remembered by fans as the “Agony of Doha”.
They did, however, manage to qualify for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, this time after beating Iran with a Golden Goal in Extra Time.
WORLD CUP APPEARANCES
Japan were placed in a group with favourites Argentina, Croatia and Jamaica. After losing 1-0 to the first two, Japan shocked everyone by losing to a dismal Jamaican team (1-2). Ousted in the first round, Japan began preparation for the World Cup scheduled to be held on their home turf.
This time, things were different.
Having drawn 2-2 in a thriller with Belgium, Japan qualified for the knockout stages with a 1-0 win over Russia, followed by a 2-0 win over Tunisia. Their Round of 16 game was scheduled to be played against Turkey, the eventual third-placed team in the tournament. Japan were clearly second best as they went down 1-0 to the Europeans.
Japan qualified for their third straight world cup in 2006! They were grouped with Australia, Croatia and Brazil, a group they failed to get out of. They conceded 7 goals, 3 against Australia and 4 against Brazil, and drew nil-nil with Croatia to get knocked out in the first round.
In 2010, Japan qualified for their fourth straight World Cup, this time quite easily. Placed in a group with favourites Netherlands, Denmark and dark horses Cameroon, Japan played brilliantly to qualify for the round of 16! They beat Cameroon (1-0) before losing to the Netherlands (0-1) and finally beating Denmark (3-1) to make it to the knockout stages.
After a stellar performance against Paraguay, both teams were locked as the game went to penalties. Japan lost 5-3 and were out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Japan is one of the most successful teams at the AFC Asian Cup. In 1992, 2000 and 2004, Japan took home the Asian Cup title to become the most successful nation along with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Japan has reached the semi-finals on 8 occasions, coming third on 4 and fourth on 1, along with their 3 wins.
In 1992, on home soil, and in 2000, they won the title by beating arch-rivals Saudi Arabia in the finals, 1-nil on both occasions. In 2004, they beat China (3-1) to lift their third title.
• Copa America: Japan are the only non-American team to have been invited to participate at the Copa America tournament. They played in 1999 and will do so again in 2011• FIFA Confederations Cup: Japan were a part of the 2001 Confederations Cup where they finished second to France (0-1)