Japan
© AFP

The past
Japan remains arguably Asia's most successful team on the Olympic men's football stage. In their seven appearances at the global showpiece, they have progressed past the group stages four times. Their most significant achievement came in 1968 in Mexico City when Kunishige Kamanoto scored twice in the opening half to seal a 2-0 third-place victory over the hosts for a bronze medal. While this remains the best result any Asian team has achieved at Olympic level, it took the East Asians nearly three decades to book their first Olympic appearance since then when they progressed to Atlanta 1996. Their dominance in Asia has been further underlined by qualifying for both Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004.

The present
Japan made relatively light work of the preliminary stage, storming into the final qualifying round as the only team to have kept an unblemished record by winning all six matches. They kept up their winning record with a 1-0 opener over Vietnam but their all-conquering form was brought to an end when then were held to a goalless draw by Saudi Arabia. A 1-0 win against Qatar was followed by an unexpected 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Gulf side in the second leg, a result which left Japan on the brink of elimination. But Sorimachi's charges bounced back by thrashing Vietnam 4-0 in the penultimate match. In the closing game, Japan kept their cool to keep the surging Saudi Arabia at bay and earn the point they needed to qualify for their eighth Olympic Games.

The future
If their record is anything to go by, it seems that Japan, under coach Yasuharu Sorimachi, are set to mount a serious challenge in Beijing. He said, "I feel the expectations of the people and the weight of my responsibility. The youngsters are very important to the future of Japanese football. I'd like to take these good ingredients and turn them into a fine dish."

Facts and figures

Former stars
Kunishige Kamanoto (1968), Hidetoshi Nakata(2000), Shinji Ono (2004)

Key players
Atsuto Uchida (defence), Keisuke Honda (midfield), Tadanori Lee (forward)   

Qualifying statistics
Japan's solid defence played a large part in their qualifying campaign. They scored seven goals while conceding only two in six games in the qualifying final round, which produced three wins, two draws and one defeat.

The numbers game
8: the number of times Japan have qualified for men's Olympic football competition so far.