With Japan becoming the first nation to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, we take a look at some of their key players whose form should prove vital to any chances of success next summer.

Shinji Kagawa | Manchester United

No doubt the most gifted player in the Japan squad, Manchester United midfielder Kagawa had a mixed first season at Old Trafford having signed from Borussia Dortmund, where he helped the club to back-to-back Bundesliga titles.

Despite missing two months of the season with a knee injury, the playmaker bounced back to score a hat-trick in United's 4-0 win over Norwich - the first Asian to do so in the Premier League - and play in a number of important games, finishing the season as the first Japanese player ever to win a Premier League medal. 

Japan's hopes of progressing past the group stages strongly depend on Kagawa's form during the tournament. The 24 year-old has already scored 13 goals in just 39 games for his country, including a number of vital strikes during the qualifying campaign.

Keisuke Honda | CSKA Moscow

The CSKA Moscow attacking midfielder has long been linked with a switch to a higher-profile club within Europe, and will no doubt attract attention this summer given his role in CSKA's league and cup double triumph.

Operating often more as a second-striker, he averages around a goal every three games for the national side and scored twice at the 2010 World Cup, where he was named man of the match in two out of three group games as Japan were eliminated on penalties by Paraguay.

With goals proving hard to come by through the qualifying stages, Honda will need to be firing if Japan are to excel come next summer. It was his last-gasp penalty which saw Japan draw with Australia to earn them their place in the draw.

Yuto Nagatomo | Inter Milan

Another frequent starter in Japan's 2010 World Cup matches, Inter MIlan full-back Nagatomo has already played 54 games for his country since his debut as a 21-year-old back in 2008 and was named in Arsene Wenger's team of the tournament.

A regular starter at Inter, the defender's Champions League experience will be of great assistance to the younger, more inexperienced members of the Japan squad in Brazil. 

Shinji Okazaki | Stuttgart

The Stuttgart frontman has an impressive record for the national side, with 32 goals in 63 appearances for the national side.

Whilst his record for Stuttgart has been less so since his move from the J-League in 2011, he was a regular scorer during the qualifying campaign, and his partnership with Honda should prove crucial to Japan's attacking threat at the World Cup.

 

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Topics:
#Internationals
#World Cup
#Football
#Shinji Kagawa