Having twice stormed into the last eight in the FIFA U-17 World Cups, Japan enter their seventh global appearance in United Arab Emirates this October seeking to make a new breakthrough. The East Asians, under Tadatoshi Komine, raised quite a few eyebrows in their global debut at Japan 1993, where they reached the quarter-finals as hosts. On the way they drew 0-0 with Italy and saw off Mexico 2-1 to seal their progression, only to be eliminated by eventual champions Nigeria by the same scoreline.
They emulated the feat in the previous edition at Mexico 2011, progressing to the Round of 16 after winning a tough group which also featured Argentina, France and Jamaica. The unstoppable Japanese went on to fire six unanswered goals past New Zealand, but were edged out by Brazil 3-2 to miss out on a place in the last four.
Hirofumi Yoshitake's Japan had fixed their sights on a fourth consecutive qualification for the FIFA tournament heading into last September's qualifier in Iran. Victories over Saudi Arabia (2-0) and Korea DPR (3-0) saw the Japanese advance to the quarter-finals alongside group winners Korea Republic, before a Taro Sugimoto brace handed them a 2-1 triumph over Syria to secure their qualifying spot for UAE 2013. They may have won comfortably 5-1 against Iraq in the semi-finals, but lost out to Uzbekistan on penalties to miss out on their third Asian title.
With the qualifying mission completed, Yoshitake spared no time in preparing his side for the global showpiece. January's UAE Junior Friendly Tournament provided him with a rare chance to take stock of his side. Even though they drew 3-3 against the hosts and lost to Tunisia 2-1, a 3-1 win over the Czech Republic gave Yoshitake reasons for optimism. He said: "Our players still have a long way to go, but I want them to not be afraid of making mistakes and to play without fear and show their talents."