fifa world cup 2022

What's next for Japan after World Cup?

By Fred Varcoe

Muted glory or glorious failure? Japan’s exit in the round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar might suggest that the national team is not progressing. That’s the stage they reached 20 years ago for the first time and have now reached four times in their seven World Cup appearances.

In Russia in 2018, Japan went 2-0 up against one of the favorites, Belgium, and gave their awesome fans hope of reaching the quarterfinals. Belgium stepped up a gear and Japan could do nothing to hold on to their lead. No one expected Japan to win, even when they were 2-0 up. Things are a little different now.

BBC commentator Danny Murphy said Japan deserved to beat Croatia and could return home with their heads held high. This time the tears rolling down the faces of Japan’s players were not because they lost, but because they knew they could have won.

Twenty-one members of Japan’s 26-man squad play in Europe or have played in Europe and most have done well at their clubs. In the past, many Japanese players tried their luck in Europe but returned home with their tails between their legs having failed to make an impact. The difference with the current squad is that the players have adjusted to the European game and know they can perform in the leagues their World Cup opponents play in. Japan has held on to its inferiority complex for too long. The big guns of football now know that Japan are no pushover. 

Everyone expected Germany and Spain to beat Japan in the Group Stage. The Germany game can be seen as Japan’s graduation into the upper level of football, not unlike the Japan rugby team’s sensational win over South Africa in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Importantly, Japan’s rugby team followed up with a brilliant performance in the 2019 World Cup. Japan did likewise by beating Spain after Germany. As with Japan’s rugby team, no one will underestimate them anymore.

But Japan still needs to get past the round of 16. What this World Cup has done is given them the belief that they really can do it. They should have done it against Croatia, who presented fewer problems than Spain or Germany, but Japan didn’t fire on all cylinders in the knockout game – and at times in other games.

The Germany game was a wake-up call for manager Hajime Moriyasu. Takefusa Kubo was one of the most high-profile players in the squad, having been signed by Real Madrid, but he was overwhelmed against Germany. Equally, Takumi Minamino, Japan’s other poster boy pre-World Cup and who has achieved success in Germany, didn’t live up to expectations. He was a failure at Liverpool (and Southampton) and, like Kubo, he has struggled to live up to the hype. More importantly, he’s not good enough in the national team. This World Cup has been a good sorting process for Moriyasu.

Shuichi Gonda did OK in goal but as with other Japanese goalkeepers he’s struggled dealing with high balls from corners and free-kicks. Japan’s search for a dominating goalkeeper goes on.

The backline is done. Hiroki Sakai (32) was never really good enough, Maya Yoshida (34) is running out of legs and the team needs an upgrade to replace Yuto Nagatomo (36). Ko Itakura was very good in Qatar and Shogo Taniguchi filled in well for him against Croatia. Miki Yamane had a decent outing at right back and Takehiro Tomiyasu is likely to be the first name on the team sheet when he’s fit, which he wasn’t in Qatar. Hiroki Ito will have to up his game if he wants to be a contender. But Japan not only needs to replace its aging defenders, it must find new team leaders like Yoshida and Nagatomo.

Moriyasu gave himself problems when playing a back three as he had to decide if the wing-backs were going to be wingers or backs. He basically chose one of each in Junya Ito (winger) and Nagatomo (not a winger but “Bravo” for trying). Nagatomo’s replacement was Kaoru Mitoma who brought his excellent Brighton form to the national team and really, really impressed. And he’s a real wing-back in that he can defend very well and attack brilliantly. Junya Ito doesn’t fit that bill, even though he was given the job.

In central midfield, Japan is solid. Ao Tanaka grabbed the glory with the winning goal against Spain, but along with Wataru Endo and Hidemasa Morita, Japan had a solid defensive setup in front of the backline.

Japan’s failure to progress really came from a failure to score a second goal against Croatia. For all the glory against Spain and Germany, Japan let themselves down against Costa Rica and Croatia. There were too many stray passes or bad decisions. 

In the group games, Daichi Kamada was terrible; against Croatia, he was the best player on the pitch (don’t take my word for it; legendary Manchester United keeper Peter Schmeichel said the same thing), but Moriyasu took him off. Mitoma was arguably the best player in the group games, but he wasn’t given 90 minutes in any of Japan’s games.

Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano hinted at greatness, but in reality they weren’t consistently good enough. Daizen Maeda came away from the tournament with great credit, scaring the crap out of defenses and goalkeepers, but you can’t help wondering if Japan would have done better if they’d taken along his Celtic teammates, ace striker Kyogo Furuhashi and creative midfielder Reo Hatate.

There are always tons of “what ifs” after a major tournament and it’s easy to second-guess team selection and the manager’s decisions. The big decision facing the Japan Football Association is whether or not to retain Moriyasu. You would think it’s a no-brainer. He’s an intelligent manager, clearly not afraid to make radical decisions and his players believe in him. It’s hard to say he got many decisions wrong in Qatar and he will have learned so much.

Talk of bringing in a top foreign coach doesn’t make any sense at all. Japan has to build on what it’s got and what it’s gained from this World Cup. 

And … er … learn how to take penalties.

© Japan Today

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Thank you Japan !!..

Ganbare Nippon !!!..

-12 ( +6 / -18 )

Samurai-Blue can definitely take heart from this tournament. Beating two amazing teams in Germany and Spain was sensational. They now know they can compete with and beat the very best.

BBC commentator Danny Murphy said Japan deserved to beat Croatia

Agreed 100%. Moriyasu-Japan was the better team.

The writer is correct : Moriyasu-Japan needs to find an entirely new backline. They are all past their best and won't be in calculations for '26.

Up front, give Celtics Kyogo and Hatate more chances. Go and get that '24 Asian Cup, Moriyasu-Japan!

-2 ( +8 / -10 )

Fantastic performance by Japan in a group I doubt my own country England could have got through.

What Japan need to go through the 2nd round barrier imo is to produce a world class striker a talisman in the Harry Kane/Harland mold-not an easy task.

Japan has produced some quality midfielders since the 90s, but less so up front.

The policy of Japanese coaches has again proved this team works best when guided in Japanese-compare this team to the zacharoni era.

overall a fantastic effort by the samurai blue and onwards to the Asia cup and wc 2026..

-5 ( +6 / -11 )

Yes! A great performance by Japan. The team must feel so good about themselves with the wins they had! They take all the glory home to Japan and they look like they are the grand winners of the games on TV this morning as I watch them at the airport surrounded by people thanking them for a perfect soccer game! They are the best and they got to come home early to celebrate their wins! Japan's soccer team is a dream come true! ; - ))

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

What's next for Japan? Well middling performances in international play. The same as it always has been. Japan plays a good defensive game, but they totally lack scoring ingenuity. It's the rigid sports culture that prizes team over individual, which is fine. But it won't produce a super star.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

Fred Varcoe is a breath of fresh air on this site.

Great writing!

3 ( +8 / -5 )

What's next for Japan? 

Maybe learn how to kick penalty kicks or even learn how to stop some?

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Almost certainly a last world cup for Yoshida Maya. As a Southampton and Grampus fan I have to say what a legend. Although he probably shouldn't have taken a penalty.

2 ( +4 / -2 )


Yes! Could not agree with you more!

"... Fred Varcoe is a great writer. "

1 ( +3 / -2 )

@Tokyo Living

I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not. All your comments are always along the lines of Go Japan! Wish I loved this place that much!

5 ( +7 / -2 )

 No one expected Japan to win, even when they were 2-0 up.

Maybe not expect, but they had good chance if not for that weird first Belgium goal.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Great effort by Japan and the article is a good reflection on what happened, what could have been and what's in store.

But the game of football by it's own inherent nature has enormous amounts of luck sown into it - as do all sports - but proportionately not in balance imo.

Truly great teams usually come out on top and truly poor teams usually lose, but the wild card always plays itself.

A couple of mms is what even saw Japan enter the last 16. If the goal against Spain was disallowed then there'd be handwringing, big questions asked and Moriyasu's head would be on the block.

It wasn't and great joy was had and a new era was heralded.

Funny game.

And as the article states most of the players are Euro based and play a more Euro-centric type of game compared to teams of the past decades. It seemed to me, Moriyasu as manger couldn't really mange the talent and potential he had on hand. Possibly the finest collection of players to date and some really baffling decisions.

Interesting as a comparison was the Australian teams success. Similar to Japans - but with arguably a far less talented pool. The do or die game against the much more highly favoured Tunisia was decided by a brilliant header from Duke who is a J2-league player. How many J1 players in the Japan national team let alone a J2 player?

Management of what you've got is key.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

So Wrong, It Is Only A Game, ranking means NOTHING, as long as the games are played and the fans are enjoying it that's all what should matter, winning or not means NOTHING.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

What's next for Japan after World Cup?

Several years of tedious qualifiers against teams like Oman, Bahrain and Vietnam.

10 ( +12 / -2 )


You made me laugh. Thank you.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

What's next for Japan? Well middling performances in international play. The same as it always has been. Japan plays a good defensive game, but they totally lack scoring ingenuity. It's the rigid sports culture that prizes team over individual, which is fine. But it won't produce a super star

A bit pessimistic but more realistic than some gibbering about semi-finals. Japan have been to the last 16 before and followed it by getting knocked out in the group stage in the following World Cup. The idea of being ready to take the next step has been said before.

Asian teams have yet to produce one genuine world-class player ( one you would argue would get in a combined world squad ). Son of Spurs and South Korea is probably the closest.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

If you watch how Japan plays, they rely and get too comfortable going wide and making crosses wide--maybe 80% of their attack is wide from their wing players. Their wide players need to cut from the wings and attack the defense with speed and dribbling and create quick give and go passes with attacking players in the middle and put more pressure on the defense by varying their wide attacks and crosses with runs toward the middle to make the central defenders defend something other than a cross from the corner. They will hopefully draw more free kicks, shots on goal by attacking players, fouls and have more creative attack with players moving and making runs. Possession is good and keeps you in games, but they will not move past the round of 16 without more tenacity, hunger, and fortitude to attack directly through the hearts of defenses.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Twenty-one members of Japan’s 26-man squad play in Europe or have played in Europe...

Playing in European leagues is a good thing but how many of this squad are key men in top European sides? You don’t see too many playing in Champions League knockout games. Minamino played for Liverpool but was never top 4 level and was shipped out.

Celtic are getting Japanese players in bulk but I don’t think playing against the likes of Ross County is going to sharpen players up to the level required.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Minamino played for Liverpool but was never top 4 level and was shipped out.

He looked mustard when he played against us for RB Salzburg in the CL. Full of raw pace and intent.

Seemed a bit lightweight and timid after joining us and didn't feature much.

He was good to have around to keep the changing room nicely tidied though.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Next step.Make Fred Varcoe coach of japanese national team since he/she/it knows all very best/just check his/her articles some days ago.

No need to waste time here at JT and better go straight to action!

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

AFC Qatar 2023 is round the corner. The current Samurai Blue squad will be a hot contender to lay hands on an important continental trophy, the equivalent of Copa America and European Championship.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Give me the reigns of the Japanese soccer team for 2 years. Ill have a team so intimidating and physically intimidating to play against, other national teams will be doing a Neymar-like sissy roll back to the airport after 15 minutes.

Soccer is a very basic sport that desperately needs new tactics. I honestly can't believe its still essentially the same stale game from 50 years ago.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

They best avoid asking English or Spanish players for tips on how to take penalties.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

After Japanese international squad lost, Japanese society lose interest to world cup rapidly.

Major media praise their fight, famous people say thank to them. 

Everything are same to 4 years before.

Japanese society only repeat same party and business every time world cup or Olympic games, no interest to understand football or sports itself.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

What's next for Japan after World Cup? Shouhei Otani reruns and a lack of broadcasting any more soccer games.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

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