A new look Japan impressed at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup showing tenacity and organisation to triumph on the back of hard-fought wins in the semi-final against Korea Republic and Australia in the final. Tadanari Lee’s extra-time winner in Doha saw Japan lift a record fourth Asian crown and regain the title last won in 2004.
The current crop
Under former coach Takeshi Okada, a host of youth talents announced their arrival on the international scene as Japan broke new ground in the last FIFA World Cup. The new generation has continued their progress under Italian Alberto Zaccheroni, who took over after their campaign in South Africa 2010. A series of impressive friendly wins, including a 1-0 defeat of a full-strength Argentina, was followed by their all-conquering performance during January's AFC Asian Cup, where they pipped Australian in the final to claim their fourth continental title. Japan's game has long been marked by their creative play and silky passing but boosted by their continental success, while Zaccheroni began to test his trademark 3-4-3 tactical system in the recent Kirin Cup.
The key players
Having excelled during the last FIFA World Cup and the recent AFC Asian Cup, CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda has quickly established his place as the team's new leader, filling the void left by Hidetoshi Nakata and Shunsuke Nakamura.
Spearheading the attacking-line are Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki, who finished the continental finals as the team's top-scorer with three goals. Alongside Honda is set-piece specialist Yasuhito Endo while Schalke 04 defender Atsuto Uchida is the key man at the rearguard.
Coach: Alberto Zaccheroni
Best performances in a FIFA competition: Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Mexico City 1968 (Third place), FIFA U-20 World Cup Nigeria 1999 (Runners-up), FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 (Quarter-finals)
Former stars: Kazuyoshi Miura, Shunsuke Nakamura, Hidetoshi Nakata