IT'S hard to argue with odds of 150/1 about Japan going all the way in Brazil this summer as while they've become something of World Cup finals regulars since qualifying for the first time in 1998, they have only progressed beyond the group stage twice.


Outright odds: 150/1

To win group: 4/1

To qualify: 11/10


Full squad: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96), Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Makoto Hasebe (FC Nuremberg), Hiroshi Kiyotake (FC Nuremberg), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F Marinos), Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Yuya Osako (TSV Munich 1860), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale)

Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni

World Cup record: Last 16 (2002, 2010), Group stage (1998, 2006)

How they qualified (most recent first): Being the top seeds in the whole Asian section, Japan, along with the other top four sides, received a bye to the third round of the huge, two-year qualification campaign. They were drawn with Uzbekistan, North Korea and Tajikistan in Group C and only scrambled through after finishing second behind Uzbekistan. Their form improved significantly in Group B of the fourth round, when pitched against Australia, Jordan, Oman and Iraq, and they progressed to Brazil by winning the group by four points from Australia.

v Iraq (away) 1-0 (HT 0-0) Okazaki 89

v Australia (home) 1-1 (HT 0-0) Honda 90+1

v Jordan (away) 1-2 (HT 0-1) Kagawa 69

v Oman (away) 2-1 (HT 1-0) Kiyotake 20 Okazaki 90

v Iraq (home) 1-0 (HT 1-0) Maeda 25

v Australia (away) 1-1 (HT 0-0) Kurihara 65

v Jordan (home) 6-0 (HT 4-0) Maeda 18 Honda 22, 31, 53 Kagawa 35 Kurihara 89

v Oman (home) 3-0 (HT 1-0) Honda 11 Maeda 51 Okazaki 54

v Uzbekistan (home) 0-1 (HT 0-1)

v Korea DRP (away) 0-1 (HT 0-0)

v Tajikistan (away) 4-0 (HT 2-0) Konno 36 Okazaki 61, 90+2 Maeda 82

v Tajikistan (home) 8-0 (HT 4-0) Havenaar 11, 47 Okazaki 19, 74 Komano 35 Kagawa 41, 68 Nakamura 56

v Uzbekistan (away) 1-1 (HT 0-1) Okazaki 65

v Korea DRP (home) 1-0 (HT 0-0) Yoshida 90+4

Other competitive internationals (most recent first): It is worth noting that Japan lost all three games they played in Brazil at last summer's Confederations Cup. They followed that by heading to the East Asian Cup in South Korea where their fortunes improved and they won the four-team tournament.

v South Korea (neutral) 2-1 (HT 1-1) Kakitani 25, 90

v Australia (neutral) 3-2 (HT 1-0) Saito 25 Osako 55, 79

v China (neutral) 3-3 (HT 1-1) Kurihara 32 Kakitani 59 Judo 60

v Mexico (neutral) 1-2 (HT 0-0) Okazaki 86

v Italy (neutral) 3-4 (HT 2-1) Honda 21 Kagawa 33 Okazaki 69

v Brazil (neutral) 0-3 (HT 0-1)

Goalscorers: Centre-forward Shinji Okazaki was the leading goalscorer in the whole AFC qualification programme with eight, Keisuke Honda found the net five times, while Shinji Kagawa and Ryoichi Maeda both claimed four goals.

The other Japan players to score more than once were Mike Havenaar and Yuzo Kurihara, with two each.

Okazaki, Japan's fourth highest all-time goalscorer, continued his form into the Confederations Cup last June, scoring in an entertaining 4-3 defeat to Italy and again finding the net in a 2-1 loss at the hands of Mexico, while he missed all three East Asia Cup matches the following month.

Half-time/full-time: From their eight victories in World Cup qualification, Japan were in front at half-time in six of them and were drawing at the break in the other two. They were behind at the break in two of their three defeats, drawing at half-time in the other. They once came from behind to draw.

Clean sheets: Japan kept seven clean sheets in their 14 qualification games, only two of which came away from home. They failed to keep a clean sheet in three games at the Confederations Cup in Brazil and also conceded in each of their three encounters at the East Asian Cup, although in winning two games and drawing the other, they won the latter tournament.

Win to nil: Seven of Japan's eight qualification victories came to nil, including three 1-0 wins as well as a 4-0 success in Tajikistan and a 6-0 home verdict over Jordan.

Cards: Counting reds as two, Japan's 14 World Cup qualification matches produced 45 cards at 3.2 cards per game. Japan received one red card and 10 yellows.

Build-up (most recent first): Japan have played nine international friendlies since claiming the East Asia Cup, winning five of them - including an impressive victory in Belgium - drawing one and losing the other three.

v Costa Rica (neutral) 3-1 (HT 0-1) Endo 60, Kagawa 80, Kakitani 90+2

v Cyprus (home) 1-0 (HT 1-0) Uchida 44

v New Zealand (home) 4-2 (HT 4-1) Okazaki 4, 17, Kagawa 7, Morishige 11

v Belgium (away) 3-2 (HT 1-1) Kakitani 37, Honda 53, Okazaki 63

v Netherlands (away) 2-2 (HT 1-2) Osako 44, Honda 60 v Belarus (away) 0-1 (HT 0-1)

v Serbia (away) 0-2 (HT 0-0)

v Ghana (home) 3-1 (HT 0-1) Kagawa 50, Endo 64, Honda 72

v Guatemala (home) 3-0 (HT 0-0) Honda 51, Kudo 69, Endo 76

v Uruguay (home) 2-4 (HT 0-2) Kagawa 54, Honda 71


Team verdict: It's hard to argue with odds of 150/1 about Japan going all the way in Brazil this summer as while they've become something of World Cup finals regulars since qualifying for the first time in 1998, they have only progressed beyond the group stage twice.

There's a chance they could complete that feat again this time, with their strong technical ability likely to be a key asset in the exhausting conditions. However, they struggled to make an impression in similar circumstances when losing all three group-stage games at last summer's Confederations Cup in Brazil and that doesn't bode well.

One striking observation from the statistics above is their fantastic disciplinary record, receiving only 10 yellow cards and a red from 14 qualification games. Zaccheroni will be hoping that continues but it also demonstrates a potential lack of resolution, further highlighted by the fact they never came from behind at half-time to win during qualification.

A lot rests on the shoulders of central striker Shinji Okazaki as it's fair to say Shinji Kagawa is hardly going into the tournament in blistering form following a miserable time of things after leaving Borussia Dortmund for Manchester United.

There are no past World Cup meetings between themselves and either of their Group C rivals, but they did lose 1-0 to Colombia at the 2003 Confederations Cup and they could be staring down the barrel if failing to beat Ivory Coast, in what promises to be an intriguing clash of footballing styles, in their opening encounter on June 15.


GROUP VERDICT: Colombia are favourites to win the group at a shade of odds-on after Jose Pekerman's side were runners-up to Argentina in what was a relatively difficult qualification campaign.

Victories over Uruguay and Chile, plus a draw with Argentina, show they are a force to be reckoned with in South America and an opening game against Group C outsiders Greece offers an excellent chance to get off to the best possible start.

However, Ivory Coast also arrive on the back of an impressive run of results during qualification and their big-game players such as Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and the Toure brothers could give them the edge when the two teams meet on June 19.

It will be fascinating to see how much game time Swansea's Wilfried Bony gets as he was hitting peak form right at the end of the Premier League season and could prove to be a real springer in the top scorer markets if allowed to shine with a starting role.

The Elephants will be warm favourites to claim maximum points against Japan and Greece so are well worth backing at 7/2 to claim top spot in the group, with a small investment at 20/1 for them to win all three games rating a sporting bet.

In the game involving the group's two lesser lights, there is unlikely to be a great deal of goalmouth action given how much emphasis both Greece and Japan place on keeping things tight in defence. An interest on the Greeks to nick the win by a solitary goal could be the way to go here after they claimed five 1-0 victories during qualification.