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Ultimate Japan dream team - Nakamura & Honda in, Kagawa out

12:15 PM GMT+4 05/12/2022
Ultimate Japan Dream Team!
Some fantastic players have represented Japan, but only the best of the best can make their dream team!

Japan are a regular at major tournaments like the World Cup and the AFC Asian Cup.

The Samurai Blue have featured in the last seven World Cups and qualified for the knockout stages in 2002, 2010 and 2018.

Not only that, Japan are the first country from outside the American continent to ever participate in the Copa America, having played in the 1999 and 2019 editions.

Over the years, some great players have featured for the Japanese national team, with players such as Keisuke Honda, Shunsuke Nakamura and Hidetoshi Nakata household names in the European football scene.

But who make up their best-ever XI?

  • Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi

    GK: Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi

    The most-capped goalkeeper in Japan's history with 116 games to his name, Kawaguchi appeared for his country between 1997 and 2010.

    He made his debut against Brazil and managed to keep a clean sheet.

    It was Kawaguchi who was the first-ever Japanese goalkeeper to play at a World Cup in 1998, with Gabriel Batistuta the only one able to beat him as Argentina recorded a 1-0 win.

    A noted penalty expert, Kawaguchi has saved spot kicks at the big stage from players like Croatia's Darijo Srna (2006 World Cup) and Australia's Harry Kewell (2007 Asia Cup quarter-finals).

  • Sadio Mane Hiroki Sakai Japan Senegal World Cup 2018 240618

    RB: Hiroki Sakai

    With vast experience at club level in Europe, Japan have benefited from the presence of Sakai at right-back since 2012.

    The former Marseille defender has over 70 caps for Japan and was part of their squad for the 2014, 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

    He did not make any appearances at the 2014 edition, but got his tournament debut against Colombia four years later, playing 90 minutes in a 2-1 win for the Samurai Blue.

  • 2017-07-01-marinos-yuji nakazawa

    CB: Yuji Nakazawa

    One of the eight Japanese players to reach 100+ caps for his country, Nakazawa was first called up to the national team in September 1999.

    He then played a key role in helping Japan win the 2000 AFC Asian Cup, but was not selected for the 2002 World Cup.

    Newly elected manager Zico gave him his opportunity again at the 2004 Asian Cup, where he was one of Japan's best performers on their way to the trophy.

    Nakazawa then did make his World Cup bow in 2006 in Germany, with Japan being knocked out in the group stages.

    He announced his retirement from international football after the tournament at the age of just 28, before withdrawing his decision and then going on to feature at the 2010 World Cup, where Japan reached the last 16.

  • maya yoshida japan

    CB: Maya Yoshida

    Yoshida made his Japan debut in January 2010 against Yemen and has made over 120 appearances for his country since then.

    He helped then win the Asian Cup in 2011, before going on to feature in all group games for Japan at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

    Yoshida also featured for the Blue Samurai at the 2018 World Cup, reaching the last 16 before being beaten by Belgium, and captained them at the 2022 World Cup.

  • yuto nagatomo japan

    LB: Yuto Nagatomo

    Japan's second-most capped player of all time, Nagatomo has made over 135 appearances for his country since his debut in 2008.

    The left-back made it into four consecutive World Cup squads (in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022) as well as three consecutive Asian Cups (2011, 2015 and 2019).

    The highlight of Nagatomo's international career came when he was part of the team that won the Asian Cup in 2011.

  • Yasuhito Endo - Japan

    CM: Yasuhito Endo

    Japan's most-capped player with 152 appearances, Endo featured in midfield for his national team between 2002 and 2015.

    Since making his debut, Endo featured at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups for Japan.

    He also was a key member of their 2004 and 2011 Asian Cup winning teams.

    To this date, Endo is considered a cult hero among fans of the national team, as well as his former club Gamba Osaka, for whom he made over 600 appearances.

  • Makoto Hasebe Japan

    CM: Makoto Hasebe

    Hasebe is one of the great Japanese central midfielders of his era and wore the captain's armband for a prolonged period of time between 2006 and 2018.

    He made his international debut under Zico's management in 2006, but he wasn't selected for that year's World Cup just yet.

    Hasebe then captained Japan to the 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cup campaigns, making 114 appearances for them over 12 years, and just beats Shinji Ono to a place in midfield.

  • nakamura

    LM: Shunsuke Nakamura

    Japan's true cult hero of the 2000s, Nakamura rose to prominence globally during his stint at club level at Celtic.

    The 2007 Ballon d'Or nominee is one of the greatest Asians to ever play in Europe and the first Japanese player to ever score in the Uefa Champions League.

    He made 98 appearances and scored 24 goals for Japan in his decade-long stint between 2000 and 2010, featuring in two World Cups (2006 and 2010) and winning the Asian Cup in 2000 and 2004.

  • Hidetoshi Nakata - Japan,Michael Ballack - Germany

    AM: Hidetoshi Nakata

    Considered one of the first Asian superstars of the modern game, Nakata featured at three World Cups for Japan (1998, 2002 and 2006).

    He played in every single game in the three tournaments, with arguably his best performance coming as an attacking midfielder at the 2006 edition against Croatia, where he won the Man of the Match award.

    He retired from the game at the age of just 29 after the 2006 World Cup, stating "I decided half a year ago that I would retire from the world of professional football ... after the World Cup in Germany. I will never again stand on the pitch as a professional player. But I will never give up football."

    There was no looking past Nakata for a place in this team, but Shinji Kagawa did give him a run for his money, even if the former Borussia Dortmund star just missed out in the end.

  • Keisuke Honda Japan

    RM: Keisuke Honda

    A true icon, Honda served his national team between 2008 and 2018, making 98 appearances and scoring 37 goals.

    Honda was a critical part of Japan's 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cup campaigns.

    It was the 2010 World Cup when Honda rose to prominence, scoring the only goal in Japan's opening match against Cameroon. He then scored a magnificent free kick in their final group game against Denmark to help Japan qualify for the last 16.

    At the 2011 Asian Cup, Honda's performances led to him winning the Player of the Tournament award.

    After also appearing at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, Honda announced his retirement from the national team in July 2018.

    Just a month after retiring from international duty, Honda became the national team coach of Cambodia.

  • 2018-06-08 Okazaki Japan

    ST: Shinji Okazaki

    The greatest active goal scorer and third all-time top goal scorer with 50 goals in 119 appearances, Okazaki is a true legend of his country.

    The 2016 Premier League winner with Leicester City made his debut for the senior team in October 2008.

    Two years after his debut, Okazaki scored the only goal for Japan as they beat Argentina 1-0 in a friendly to record their first-ever win over the two-time World Cup winners.

    He then featured at the 2014 and 2018 World Cup for his country and narrowly sees off all-time legends such as Kunishige Kamamoto and Kazuyoshi Miura for the spot up top.