2010 FIFA Preview: Japan

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    OSAKA, JAPAN - APRIL 07: Shunsuke Nakamura of Japan in action during the Kirin Challenge Cup match between Japan and Serbia at Nagai Stadium on April 7, 2010 in Osaka, Japan. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

    JAPAN
    FIFA RANK:
    45

    In many ways, you can consider Japan the "Rodney Dangerfield" of Asian soccer. I know its an odd comparison, but hear me out for a second.

    Despite their recent dominance in Asia, no one really respects the squad known as the "Blue Samurai" or think they have zero chance of making noise at this year's World Cup.

    I'll admit I was on the same boat. I knew little about this Japanese squad except for the fact they managed to make it out the group stage when they co-hosted with South Korea in 2002. But even then, they were overshadowed by Korea's run to the semis.

    So I took a closer look and noticed they have accomplished much in the past decade. This was a nation on the outside looking in until 1998. It was the Blue Samurai's first trip ever to the World Cup and they haven't missed one since. They were also the first Asian nation to qualify for South Africa.

    So why the Dangerfield treatment? Because the Blue Samurai can't seem to get out of their own way. They're known for playing well against teams equal to them, but playing horrible against strong opponents.

    They have a chance to shed that image this summer, but it will be far from easy. The group includes The Netherlands, Denmark, and Cameroon on African soil...ouch. But here's your Japanese bizzaro fact of the day! For some reason, they play well against African teams. The Blue Samurai are undefeated in six matches vesus African teams since 2007, and they get Cameroon first.

    And if they follow the lead of the their superstar, they could do more damage. Shunsuke Nakamura is the stud of this line-up. He plays in Spain for Espanyol and is adored in his home country. Everything revolves around the creative mid-fielder.

    I recently watched the movie "Last Samurai" and thought to myself, if the Blue Samurai can accomplish anything close to what Tom Cruise did in that movie they would earn their respect. I know Tom Cruise isn't Japanese, but its alot better than being compared to Rodney Dangerfield.

    MATCH SCHEDULE:
    June 14th VS. Cameroon - 9am CT (Match sets the tone for the rest of the tournament)
    June 19th VS. Netherlands - 6:30am CT (Netherlands are heavy favorites, may get ugly for Blue Samurai)
    June 24th VS. Denmark - 1:30pm CT (Danes look big and rock solid, but Japanese could use their quickness to create scoring chances)

    NEXT ON THE PITCH: HONDURAS