Japan – Three World Cup stars to look out for in Russia 2018

A welcome addition

Japan are a welcome addition to Russia 2018 and they fully deserve their place at the tournament proper following a strong qualifying phase. Samaria Blue topped their division with 20 points, one better than Saudi Arabia and Australia, showing stats of 6-2-2. They aren’t expected to do anything with their invite of course and bookies have a stunning Japan World Cup win at 500/1 (Betfair Exchange) and that looks about fair.

Interestingly, they have made six World Cup appearances to date and reached the round of 16 twice – 2002 and 2010 – but have gone no further. Fancy more of the same? Japan to match that is 9/4 at Bet Victor, second favourite behind 4/11 group stages. They share a pile with Poland, Senegal and Colombia.

There’s not too many household names in the Japanese squad, certainly not many known well by followers of European football, but they are a talented bunch. Here’s three worth keeping an eye on…..

Okazaki proving a snip

Genki Haraguchi

The 27-year-old prefers to play as a striker but can also fill in on the wing and it’s that versatility that will see him gain a place in the starting line-up for Japan vs Colombia on Tuesday 19th June, a 4.00pm kick-off live on BBC. Despite coming through the youth ranks he has played only 24 times to date for the senior squad, scoring six goals. Traders have him as 5/1 favourite to top score for the team but he’s not alone, sharing the jolly tag with two others.

Haraguchi is currently on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf who recently gained promotion to the Bundesliga after winning the German second-flight. A low standard of football but Genki did his bit, scoring in a grudge match vs Kaiserslautern earlier this year. He’ll get a share of game time, but we expect him to cut a lonely figure in attack.

Shinji Okazaki

A player Brits will know a lot more about from his time at Leicester City. The 32-year-old moved to the King Power Stadium in 2015 from Mainz and proved to be a snip with the Premier League side forking out just £7m for his services. They certainly got their money worth with the Japanese attacking midfielder scoring important league goals as well as lending a hand in that famous Champions League adventure.

Okazaki’s international form has been just as impressive with 50 scored in 108 games and he’s another you’ll find at 5/1 to net more than any of his teammates during their involvement. That’s sure to prove popular with punters, especially Leicester fans eager to follow one of their own. He’ll take confidence from a double against Southampton late last year.

Maya Yoshida

Another you’ll know from our coverage of the Premier League, Yoshida is the centre back employed by Southampton. The 29-year-old has been one of the few standouts in a poor season for The Saints which saw them narrowly avoid relegation, beating Swansea’s total by a point. Close, but fans will take heart from the fact they lost only one of their final five goes.

The rumour mill has already kicked into action and Yoshida has found himself linked to a number of clubs across the world, including Saudi Arabia. Southampton followers will be keen to keep hold of their 6ft 2inch defender but a strong showing in Russia will see him move for a fee. Was sent off against Everton recently but scored a consolation goal in a 4-1 defeat to Leicester.

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