Fragile defence

Japan, which is making its fifth consecutive appearance in the World Cup, is one of the earliest teams to book a berth to Brazil. Under Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni the Japanese were entertaining in the qualifiers and scored a lot of goals but a shock loss to Jordon exposed the fragile defence.

Zaccheroni, who has been in charge of the Blue Samurais for the last four years, broke the stereotyped image of Italian coaches obsessed with defence and brought in a free flowing, attacking style of play that saw the likes of Shingi Kagawa and Keisuke Honda thrive.

Japan won many plaudits for its attacking style in the Confederations Cup but three consecutive defeats exposed the weak backline which leaked in goals against quality opponents. Uruguay’s Diego Forlan and Luis Saurez tore Japan’s soft defence apart in the 4-2 win in August 2013 and Zaccheroni was under pressure to shore up the fragile defence. The Italian brought in new players and tinkered with formations in the friendlies that followed. The Blue Samurais’ 3-2 win over a highly-rated Belgium which came a few days after a highly competitive 2-2 draw against a strong Netherlands side turned quite a few heads. The win that followed against New Zealand and the recent victory over Cyprus had been morale boosting for a side chasing its first quarterfinal appearance in the signature event.

A favourable draw in the World Cup has pitted the Asian champion with the likes of Greece, Ivory Coast and Colombia in an even looking group C. Many of its die-hard fans believe Japan can progress to the quarterfinals but a lot will depend on how its suspect defence holds up.