A thrilling 8-6 semi-final victory over Iran at the Asian qualifying competition was enough to secure Japan's place at a third successive FIFA Beach World Cup, making them the first nation from their continent to achieve such a feat since the tournament's inception in 2005.
With the immense natural advantage of long stretches of coastline, the East Asian islanders' passion and aptitude for beach soccer is natural and evident. In the inaugural FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, they proved their credentials by storming into the semi-final, strengthening the belief that this discipline had become the nation's strongest footballing suit.
Boosted by this tremendous success, the Japanese footballing fraternity embarked on a further developing process with their first beach soccer office established in the Futsal department of the Japanese Football Association. Their efforts paid off, with numbers participating in the discipline continually increasing and the national team continuing on its upwards trajectory.
In the qualifying competition at Dubai's Al Mamzar Beach, Japan were pitted against debutants India and hosts United Arab Emirates in a qualifying section they were expected to dominate from the outset.
However, the tournament favourites were nearly caught out in the opening game against little-known India, eventually emerging triumphant, though only by the odd goal in seven. It was, however, the result rather than their lackluster performances that counted, and the three points gleaned from that match were all Japan needed to qualify for last four despite losing out 6-3 to an impressive UAE in the second match.
Coach Alberto's side then showed their class in the crucial semi-final clash against Iran, which they won 8-6. That victory secured the Japanese a place at Rio de Janeiro this November and set up a rematch with the hosts in the final, one which UAE edged 4-3.
Head coach Carlos Alberto Lisboa, better known as 'Nenem', is a former Brazilian beach soccer star. Throughout his 12-year international playing career from 1994 to 2006, he was Brazil's chief marksman, firing his side to nine world beach soccer titles. Possessing an uncanny scoring prowess, he chalked up an incredible 339 international goals for his country, a tally which remains a record in Brazil.
The scoring legend began to establish his coaching credentials by guiding Japan through a hard-fought qualifying competition to their third consecutive FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in August. Having made an encouraging start to his career in the dugout, he is looking to prove as successful in coaching as he did during his glittering and remarkable playing career.
Takeshi Kawaharazuka has long been Japan shining light on the sands, but a knee ligament injury will keep him out of the Rio de Janeiro showpiece. The player who will be charged with filling his void as the team's talisman is the 22-year-old Shusei Yamauchi.
He made his international debut earlier this year in the
Mundialito in Portimao, and then augmented his reputation during
the Rio de Janeiro 2007 qualifiers in Dubai, scoring 6 goals in 4
games. "Of course it's tough to lose our top striker, but
we are more than fine with Yamauchi as our leading offensive
weapon," said coach Nenem.
Japan finished fourth at the 2005 edition of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, before being eliminated from the quarter-finals one year later.
What they said
"I can't say I'm 100 per cent satisfied with the outcome of this tournament for us because I honestly expected to win the trophy. But our primary goal was achieved and now we will work hard to improve certain points in the run-up to Copacabana."
Japan coach Carlos Alberto Lisboa 'Nenem', after Japan's 4-3 final defeat to UAE in qualifying.