The former Japan skipper believes the future looks bright for his home nation following the rapid development of the sport at all levels
Indeed, the ex-Gamba Osaka star believes winning a World Cup within the next 20 years is within Japan's reach following the rapid development of the sport at all levels in the nation.
“If we manage to qualify, I think our team could reach the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals,” he said in an interview with FIFA.com. “It’s good that we’re playing in the Confederations Cup this year, as it’ll be an excellent yardstick to see where we’re at as a team, and in particular to assess the progress of our younger players.
“Football in Japan has progressed incredibly. Currently there’s fantastic work being done at grassroots level and I think we’re reaping the rewards of the 2002 World Cup, which had a huge impact on my country. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a large number of Japanese players at big European clubs in the next ten years.
“The fact that a high number of matches from European leagues are currently widely available on television has contributed to football’s increasing popularity in Japan.”
The former Red Bull Salzburg defender is a current student of the Fifa Master program, which he believes has given him a much more profound understanding of the game.
“I learned a great deal in the areas of humanities, management and law in sport," he explained. "It’s something I’d definitely recommend to other footballers. As a player you learn a lot about being out on the pitch, but management and law are subjects that require a special kind of education.
“In general I think our sport is going through a tough time financially, which is why I believe having a quality education in the areas of management and marketing is fundamental.
“As a captain of Japan I saw and learned many things on the pitch. Now I would like to put them into practice off it.”