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WORLD CUP FORECAST: Group C - Is it time for Japan to really make their presence felt?

Japan are preparing for their fifth-straight World Cup finals after cruising through their Asian qualifying campaign.

Alberto Zaccheroni's Blue Samurai lost just once in eight matches in Group B of their region's fourth round of qualifying, becoming the second team to book their spot in the 2014 tournament, behind hosts Brazil.

Italian Zaccheroni has at his disposal a number of talented players who are performing at the very top level in Europe and it is this exposure to top leagues in England, Italy and Germany which could see the Japanese cause some problems for their opposition in Group C.

The opening fixture against the Ivory Coast will be integral for their hopes of progressing to the knockout phase while their second match against Greece could define whether or not they will be playing on.

Japan certainly have the capacity to finish top two in their group but more often than not, we see sides with the potential to succeed do quite the opposite.

This time around though there is more of a steely resolve within the Japanese squad which has been instilled by Zaccheroni, along with a mix of artistic nous, since he took charge after the Round of 16 finish in South Africa.

Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni

Fixtures: Ivory Coast - June 14 (Recife), Greece - June 19 (Natal), Colombia - June 24 (Cuiaba)

Past outings against group opponents: Japan open their World Cup campaign with a tough fixture against Cote d'Ivoire. The two have previously met on three occasions, with the Blue Samurai winning twice and the Elephants saluting once.

In the 2005 Confederations Cup, Japan secured a 1-0 victory over Greece in the only previous game between the two.

In their final group game against Colombia, Nippon will be looking for their first win over their South American counterparts having previously lost one and drawn one from two encounters. They last met in Saitama in 2007 for a 0-0 draw.

Key players:Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Okazaki (FSV Mainz), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan)

World Cup utopia: To get beyond the Round of 16.

Doomsday scenario: Failure to qualify from Group C.

Qualified by virtue of: Finishing first Group B of Asian qualifying.

Best result at a World Cup: Round of 16 (2002 and 2010).

tribal's forecast:

The Japanese players initially struggled to adapt to Zaccheroni's style of play shortly after he replaced Takeshi Okada before it all started to click in the second half of their mammoth two-year qualifying campaign.

The likes of Honda, Kagawa and Okazaki will be sure to provide plenty of trouble for opposing defences while Nagatomo and Schalke's Atsuto Uchida offer width from a back four which is likely to consist of Southampton's Maya Yoshida and Gamba Osaka veteran Yasuyuki Konno at centre-back.

After missing five months with FC Nurnberg, skipper Makoto Hasebe should be fully fit to partner the country's most-capped player Yasuhito Endo in central midfield with the idea of protecting the back four.

That should free up the aforementioned trio of Honda, Kagawa and Okazaki to use their natural attacking flair and creativity which has been evident over the past 18 or so months.

If Japan can carry their free-flowing form into the tournament then we could see one of this year's surprise packages.

They have played some brilliant football under Zaccheroni in the past and with that in mind, we fancy them to at least progress from the group stage, before potentially meeting Italy in what could be an emotional Round of 16 encounter for the Blue Samurai boss.

Prediction: Round of 16

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Andrew Slevison
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Andrew Slevison

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