Having represented Asia three times at Berlin 1936, Melbourne 1956 and Tokyo 1964, the East Asians took the Mexico 1968 edition by storm as they emerged surprise bronze medalists, with their goal-scoring legend Kunishige Kamamoto finishing tournament top-scorer on seven goals. The Japanese, along with all other Asian teams, have still yet to better that achievement. After a 28-year absence from the competition, Japan finally made their return at Atlanta 1996. From there, they have never looked back, booking their place at the Olympic Games' last three instalments.
Japan enter their fourth consecutive Olympic appearance at London 2012, having dominated Asia's Olympic qualifying for many years. Japan were among the undisputed favourites to progress through to London as they began their qualifying campaign, and in fact, received a bye into the second qualifying round. There they defeated Kuwait 4-3 on aggregate to edge into the final round of qualifying, where they would continue their dominance in a group that also featured Malaysia, Bahrain and Syria. Japan secured three opening victories at the final stage, which left them well-placed to claim the section's automatic qualifying spot. A 2-1 loss away to Syria in their fourth outing may have briefly put them on halt, but the Japanese quickly bounced back. In the penultimate game, they fired four unanswered goals past Malaysia before securing a 2-0 home win over Bahrain to seal their qualification.
Even more impressive was that coach Takashi Sekizuka's side completed their qualifying mission missing a handful of European-based stars, with Dortmund forward Shinji Kagawa the most notable absentee. A longstanding club coach in the J-League, Sekisuka spent five seasons with Kawasaki Frontale before taking over the Olympic side in 2010. His domestic experience proved to be of great value throughout qualifying as he successfully molded the young team into one of Asia's most competitive sides. "Our team proved united, and they worked hard to make improvements in each game," said the 51-year-old former Honda FC forward. "Now we have qualified for the London Games, but this is just a start for us. We have to move on to prepare for the Olympic competition itself."
Facts and figures
Kunishige Kamamoto (1968), Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, Hidetoshi Nakata (1996), Shunsuke Nakamura, Naohiro Takahara, Junichi Inamoto (2000), Shinji Ono, Yoshito Okubo (2004)
Shuichi Gonda (goalkeeper), Yuki Otsu (forward), Hiroki Sakai (defender)
The Japanese racked up an impressive 17 goals, while conceding six in a total eight games over two qualifying rounds for the Olympic Games.
The numbers game
1 - The number of games Japan lost during their London 2012 qualifying campaign.