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32 Teams of World Cup
Home advantage will help build on recent progress
In the past, the road to the FIFA World Cup finals for Japan has been littered with disappointment and near-misses, none more so than when they failed to qualify for USA 94 by conceding a last minute goal in their final match against Iraq, the draw costing them a place at their first-ever FIFA World Cup finals.
Thanks mainly to the advent of the J.League, however, Japan has come a long way since then, with an impressive youth system bringing through the talent that coach Philippe Troussier has moulded into a unit that has steadily climbed the FIFA rankings and dominated at continental level.
The Frenchman's appointment after the three defeats during France 98 - Japan's first-ever FIFA World Cup - was met with some surprise, but the former Nigeria and Burkina Faso coach took Japan to victory in the Asian Cup in Lebanon in 2000 and the final of the FIFA Confederations' Cup the following year.
Japan's success has been built on the team that Troussier took to the final of the FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria in 1999, combined with several more experienced players, such as Parma's Hidetoshi Nakata, the most recognisable and successful of the country's European exports.
Others are coming through too, though, with Junichi Inamoto proving inspirational in front of the defence during Japan's successful run, his form earning him a move to English Premier League side Arsenal.
Significant players of the past:
Kunishige Kamamoto, Kazuyoshi Miura
-- Asian Cup winners: 2000, 1992
-- FIFA Confederations' Cup runners-up: 2001
-- FIFA World Youth Championship runners-up: 1999
-- Olympic Games: bronze medal 1968
-- FIFA World Cup final appearance: 1998
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