Shinji Okazaki – Goals: 52
Kazuyoshi Miura – Goals: 42
Keisuke Honda – Goals: 37
Shinji Kagawa – Goals: 31
Yuya Osako – Goals: 25
Japan Soccer Team History
Japan’s first national team was made up of students from Tokyo. Their first match was a 5-0 loss to China in 1917 at the Far East Asian Games. The Japan national football team also appeared at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
In the early years, Japan either didn’t qualify or withdrew from FIFA World Cup qualification. So, their first big achievement was a Bronze medal in the 1968 Olympics. Without a domestic professional league, Japan lagged behind other competitive nations in soccer.
The Samurai Blue came close to qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in 1986 but lost to South Korea in an important match. Two years later, they made their first major tournament appearance at the AFC Asian Cup but were eliminated in the group stage.
J. League Formed in 1993
Japan national football team won their first major honor in 1992, when they hosted and won the AFC Asian Cup. The J. League was formed in 1993 as Japan’s first professional league, and it is credited with rapidly accelerating the progress of soccer in the country.
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Still without a FIFA World Cup appearance to their name, Japan narrowly missed out on USA 1994 with a draw to Iraq in qualification. The first Japan World Cup appearance came four years later, but they lost all of their matches and were eliminated in the group stage. Masashi Nakayama scored Japan’s first ever World Cup goal in a 2-1 loss to Jamaica.
AFC Asian Cup Power
At the 2000 AFC Asian Cup, Japan national football team won their second major title and finished as runners up in the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Japan co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea and advanced to the knockout stage for the first time. They lost to Turkey, who finished in third place, 1-0 in the round of 16. Two years later, Japan retained their AFC Asian Cup title by defeating China 3-1 in the final.
The Samurai Blue qualified for a third consecutive World Cup in 2006 but failed to advance past the group stage. Impressively, Japan were the first team to punch their ticket to the 2010 World Cup and were firmly established as an Asian power by this point.
First Win in a World Cup Away From Home
With some questionable results in the lead up to South Africa 2010, expectations weren’t too high for Japan. Regardless, Japan national football team won their opening match 1-0 vs. Cameroon on a Keisuke Honda goal. The win was Japan’s first in a World Cup not on home soil.
In the next match, Japan fell to eventual finalists Netherlands 1-0 but defeated Denmark 3-1 in the group stage finale. Japan advanced to the round of 16 but fell in penalties to Paraguay. In 2011, Japan won their fourth AFC Asian Cup in seven tries.
Japan were once again the first nation to qualify for the World Cup in 2014, other than hosts Brazil. Like in 1998 and 2006, Japan failed to win a match at Brazil 2014 and were eliminated in the group stage.
At the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Japan made history by becoming the first AFC team to defeat a South American team in the World Cup. Shinji Okazaki and Yuya Osaka scored the goals in a 2-1 win over Colombia. In their next match Japan drew 1-1 with Senegal and advanced to the knockout stage, despite a 1-0 loss to Poland.
In the round of 16, Japan were matched up against heavyweights Belgium. The Samurai Blue took a surprising 2-0 lead in the second half but didn’t switch up their gameplan, leaving themselves vulnerable on the counter attack.
A relentless Belgium pulled the game back level in the 74th minute and Nacer Chadli scored a last minute winner for the Red Devils. It was the first time any team had lost after securing a two goal advantage in the knockout stage since 1970.
Japan national football team qualified for their seventh consecutive World Cup in March 2022.
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