Sports | Jan 03

The best players in the history of the Japanese national football team

Heading into the 2022 FIFA World Cup, no one really gave Japan much hope. The Bule Samurai have impressed in recent editions of the tournament.

Qatar 2022 was the seventh consecutive tournament that the country had qualified for and if that wasn’t impressive enough, they had reached the second round on three separate occasions, in 2002, 2010 and 2018. At the most installment of the tournament in Russia four years ago, they very nearly eliminated Belgium in the last 16, however they threw away a two-goal lead in the final 20 minutes to somehow lose 3-2. Despite their impressive pedigree on football’s grandest stage, however, they were still labelled as no hopes. 

The primary reason for that was due to the fact that they were drawn in Group E alongside two of European football’s heavyweights, Spain and Germany. Those two nations had won two of the last three World Cups, with the former winning in 2010 and the latter winning in 2014. With that being said, OddsChecker, which compares football odds and free bets, had made the pair of former champions the favorites to progress to the second round. Japan were expected to finish third, ahead of Costa Rica, the fourth team in the group. 

But those predictions were blown wide open when Japan came from behind to defeat the Germans. Two goals in the final 15 minutes from Ritsu Dōan and Takuma Asano - both of whom play their club football in Germany - secured a 2-1 victory. And the Japanese were up to their old tricks again in their third group game, once again coming back from a goal down to win against Spain. Those victories saw them progress to the second round as group winners. But Croatia - the World Cup knockout round specialists - had too much for the plucky underdogs, winning on penalties to set up a quarter-final tussle with favorites Brazil. 

Japan’s national soccer team has a long, proud history of excellence. From their first appearance at the Olympics in 1936 to their most recent impressive performance at the 2022 World Cup, the team has never failed to make the country proud. Throughout the years, some of the most talented players to ever grace the pitch have worn the Japanese jersey, and here we’ll look at some of the best of them. 

Eiji Kawashima

First up, we have goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who is widely regarded as one of the finest shot-stoppers of his generation. During his long career with the Japanese national team, Kawashima made an impressive 95 appearances, keeping a total of 43 clean sheets. He also won the Asian Cup in 2011 and was named the Best Goalkeeper of the tournament.

Hidetoshi Nakata

Next, we have midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata, who is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders to ever play for Japan. During his time with the national team, Nakata made 97 appearances, scoring an impressive 22 goals in the process. He also won the Asian Cup in 2000 and was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Nakata had an impressive club career as well, regularly featuring in Serie A for the likes of Roma, Parma and Fiorentina. 

Shunsuke Nakamura

Next, we have winger Shunsuke Nakamura, who remains one of football’s all-time great set-piece specialists. During his time as a Blue Samurai, the former Celtic star made an impressive 101 appearances, scoring a total of 24 goals. Nakamura will forever be an icon at Celtic Park after his last-gasp 30-yard free kick secured a famous victory over Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League. 

Keisuke Honda

Finally, we have forward Keisuke Honda, who was another free kick specialist and wildly talented. During his long career with the national team, Honda made an impressive 93 appearances, scoring a total of 37 goals. He also won the Asian Cup in 2011 and was named the Player of the Tournament. The attacking midfielder made a name for himself in Russia with CSKA Moscow, before moving to Italian giants AC Milan. 

These four players have all made incredible contributions to the Japanese national team, and have become some of the most beloved and respected players in the country’s history. They have all played a key role in helping the team reach its current level of success, and are sure to be remembered fondly by generations to come. 


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