Japan’s history at the FIFA Futsal World Cup is a tale of steady improvement. The Asian champions were among the participants at the first edition in 1989, but returned home having lost all three of their first-round matches. It was a similar story in 2004, when - after three failures in qualifying – they returned only to again finish bottom of their section, albeit picking up their first point en route in a 1-1 draw with USA. Four years later, it was a different story altogether as the Japanese proved competitive in a tough section featuring Brazil and Russia, heading for home on the back of convincing wins over both Cuba and the Solomon Islands.
Their presence at Thailand 2012 is not surprising, but the fact that Miguel Rodrigo’s side will travel there as continental champions has taken many by surprise. Iran had, after all, won the AFC Futsal Championship in 10 of its previous 11 editions, so Japan’s triumph represented a major upset. Their success was based on a blend of defensive organisation and attacking flair, with captain Rafael Henmi emerging as their outstanding player.
As Japan’s showing at the Asian showpiece in UAE underlined, they are sure to be a force to be reckoned when they come up against the world’s best in Thailand. Rodrigo, their flamboyant Spanish coach, blends tactical knowhow with a proven ability to motivate, and players such as Henmi, Tetsuya Murakami and the veteran Kenichiro Kogure will cause problems for any defence. Henmi, voted the AFC Futsal Championship’s MVP, has nevertheless stressed the importance of remaining humble. “We must continue to work hard,” he said. “Our team unity and team spirit were key (in UAE) and I hope this will continue at the World Cup."
Facts and figures
Kenichiro Kogure, Katsutoshi Henmi, Tetsuya Murakami, Kazu Miura
Japan’s triumphant campaign in UAE began nervously, and it took a goal from Henmi in the dying seconds to see off Lebanon in their opening match. From then on, however, it was plain sailing, with 6-1 victories over Chinese Taipei and Tajikistan taking them through as group winners. In the latter stages, 1-0 and 3-0 wins over Kyrgyzstan and Australia respectively set up a final with Thailand in which the Samurai Blue cruised to victory by an emphatic 6-1 margin.
5 – Japan conceded just five times en route to winning the AFC Futsal Championship, and just once in the three knockout rounds, giving them the tournament’s best defensive record.