Japan have been one of Asia's most successful teams at youth level for nearly two decades, winning the AFC U-16 Championship in 1994 and 2006 and representing the continent at the FIFA U-17 World Cup five times. Their first two appearances at the global showpiece (in 1993 and 1995) unearthed a host of future stars including the likes of Hidetoshi Nakata, Junichi Inamoto, Naohiro Takahara and Shinji Ono. It was no surprise that such a talented generation went on to take the 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup by storm, finishing runners-up. They have made less of an impression at the U-17 word finals, however, with their debut on home soil 1993 marking the only time they progressed past the group stage.
Aiming to win their third continental title going into 2010’s Asian qualifying competition, the Japanese lived up to their favourites tag by firing six unanswered goals past Vietnam in their opener. Despite coach Hirofumi Yoshitake resting a number of key players against Timor Leste, his reserved side had little problem recording a 1-0 win. After drawing Australia 0-0 to progress into the last eight, the East Asians saved their best performance for the quarter-final clash against Iraq, running out 3-1 winners to book passage to their sixth FIFA U-17 World Cup. However, their hopes of another continental title were dashed in the semi-finals when they fell 2-1 to a determined Korea DPR.
Japan proved one of the tournament's most organised sides, playing an entertaining passing game while defending well as a team. Spearheading their charges is top-scorer Takumi Minamino, who scored five goals as he steered Japan to Mexico 2011, including a stunning brace against Iraq. With the Cerezo Osaka forward already heralded as an emerging star for Japan, coach Yoshitake chose to downplay the individual contribution by stressing team unity. "My opinion is my team does not have so-called star players," he said. "As a team they are very well organised and as a team they are in good condition. That is what is expected to carry us through."