Japan national football team
The Japan national football team, nicknamed the Samurai Blue, represents Japan in men's international football and it is controlled by the Japan Football Association, the governing body for football in Japan. The current head coach is Hajime Moriyasu, who is also the current coach of the Japan U-23 team.
Japan was not a major football force until the end of the 1980s, with its team small and amateur, but since the 1990s, when Japanese football became fully professionalized, Japan has quickly emerged as one of the most successful teams in Asia, having qualified for the last six consecutive FIFA World Cups with second round advancements in 2002, 2010, and 2018, and having won the AFC Asian Cup a record four times, in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2011. The team has also finished second in the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Japan's incredible transformation from an amateur football team to become a fully professional and Asian powerhouse in just a short amount of time has served as an inspiration and example of how to develop football.
Their principal continental rivals are South Korea, North Korea, China and most recently, Australia; though they also develop rivalries against Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Japan was the first team from outside the Americas to participate in the Copa América, having been invited in 1999, 2011, 2015, and 2019 editions of the tournament, although they only played in the 1999 and 2019 events.
Pre-war Era (1910s–1930s)Japan's earliest international matches were at the 1917 Far Eastern Championship Games in Tokyo, where it was represented by a team from the Tokyo Higher Normal School. Although Japan made strong showings in swimming, baseball, and track and field, its football team suffered resounding defeats to the Republic of China and the Philippines. Nevertheless, the game was promoted in Japanese schools in the 1920s. The Japan Football Association was formed in 1921, and Japan joined FIFA in May 1929.
Japan's first "true" national team was fielded at the 1930 Far Eastern Championship Games, and drew with China for the championship title. Shigeyoshi Suzuki coached the national team to its first Olympic appearance at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Japan was an entrant for the 1938 FIFA World Cup qualification, but withdrew before its scheduled qualifying match against the Dutch East Indies.
After World War II began in earnest, Japan did not play in international competition, except for a handful of matches against Manchuria and other colonies. Its last prewar match for purposes of Elo ratings was a friendly against the Philippines in June 1940.
While Korea was under Japanese rule, several Koreans played in international competition for Japan, including Kim Yong-sik, Kim Sung-gan and Lee Yoo-hyung.
Post-war Era (1950s–1980s)Japan's postwar debut was in the 1951 Asian Games in India. Japan re-joined FIFA in 1950 and played in qualifiers for the 1954 FIFA World Cup, but lost the AFC qualifying berth to South Korea after two matches, beginning an intense rivalry. Japan also joined the Asian Football Confederation in 1954.
Dettmar Cramer joined the Japan national team as coach in 1960, and helped lead the team to the round of eight at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Japan's first major achievement in international football came in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, where the team won the bronze medal. Although this result earned the sport increased recognition in Japan, the absence of a professional domestic league hindered its growth and Japan would not qualify for the FIFA World Cup until 30 years later. Nonetheless, Japan had come close to qualify for the 1986 FIFA World Cup, but lost to South Korea in the deciding matches.
Japan made its first appearance in the Asian Cup in 1988, where they were eliminated in the group stage following a draw with Iran and losses to South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
The late 1980s saw concrete moves to professionalize the sport in Japan. JFA introduced a Special Licensed Player system in 1986, allowing a limited number of professional players to compete in the domestic semi-professional league. Action committees were held in 1988 and 1989 to discuss the introduction of a full professional league in Japan.
1990s: riseIn 1991, the owners of the semi-professional Japan Soccer League agreed to disband the league and re-form as the professional J.League, partly to raise the sport's profile and to strengthen the national team program. The following year Japan hosted and won the Asian Cup in their second appearance, defeating Saudi Arabia 1–0 in the final. The J.League was officially launched in 1993, causing interest in football and the national team to grow.
However, in its first attempt to qualify with professional players, Japan narrowly missed a ticket to the 1994 World Cup after drawing with Iraq in the final match of the qualification round, remembered by fans as the "Agony of Doha". Japan's next tournament was a defence of their continental title at the 1996 Asian Cup. The team won all their games in the group stage but were eliminated in the quarter-finals after a 2–0 loss to Kuwait.
The nation's first ever World Cup appearance was in 1998, where Japan lost all their games. The first two fixtures went 1–0 in favour of Argentina and Croatia, despite playing well in both matches. Their campaign ended with a 2–1 defeat to Jamaica.
2000sIn the 2000 AFC Asian Cup, Japan managed to reclaim their title after defeating Saudi Arabia in the final, becoming Asian Champions for the second time.
Two years later, Japan co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea. After a 2–2 draw with Belgium in their opening match, the Japanese team advanced to the second round with a 1–0 win over Russia and a 2–0 victory against Tunisia. However, they subsequently exited the tournament during the round of 16, after losing 1–0 to eventual third-place finishers Turkey.
The 2004 AFC Asian Cup hosted by China, the Japanese managed to retain the title, though its journey had been more troubling. Facing against an entirely hostile Chinese fans, the Japanese managed to top their group after two wins over Thailand and Oman, before overcame Jordan and Bahrain, both hard-fought games for Japan, to reach the final where they beat host China 3–1.
On 8 June 2005, Japan qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, its third consecutive World Cup, by beating North Korea 2–0 on neutral ground. However, Japan failed to advance to the Round of 16, losing to Australia 1–3, drawing Croatia 0–0 and losing to Brazil 1–4.
The 2007 AFC Asian Cup saw Japan failed to defend the title. Although easily topped ahead of host Vietnam and two Arab rivals, Qatar and the UAE, the Japanese were totally exhausted in their game against Australia, where Japan won only by penalty shootout. Having been exhausted for the win, Japan lost to Saudi Arabia in the semi-finals before failed in the third-place match to South Korea.
2010sDuring the 2010 World Cup qualification, in the fourth round of the Asian Qualifiers, Japan became the first team other than the host South Africa to qualify after defeating Uzbekistan 1–0 away. Japan was put in Group E along with the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon, and was not expected highly due to unimpressive results in friendlies. Despite this criticisms, Japan went on to shock its opening match of the 2010 World Cup with a 1–0 win against Cameroon, before subsequently lost to the Netherlands 0–1. Then, Japan resoundingly beat Denmark 3–1 to advance to the next round against Paraguay, making it the first time ever Japan progressed from the group stage without hosting the World Cup. In the first knockout round, Japan were eliminated from the competition following penalties after a 0–0 draw against Paraguay, but received praises for its outstanding performances.
After the World Cup, head coach Takeshi Okada resigned. He was replaced by former Juventus and Milan coach Alberto Zaccheroni. In his first few matches, Japan recorded victories over Guatemala and Paraguay, as well as one of their best ever results, a 1–0 victory over Argentina.
At the start of 2011, Japan participated in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar. On 29 January, they beat Australia 1–0 in the final after extra time, their fourth Asian Cup triumph and allowing them to qualify for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Japan then started their road to 2014 World Cup in Brazil with numerous qualifiers. Throughout, they suffered only two losses to Uzbekistan and Jordan, and drawing against Australia. Afterwards, on 12 October, Japan earned a historic 1–0 victory over France, a team they had never before defeated. After a 1–1 draw with Australia they qualified for the 2014 World Cup, becoming the first nation to qualify.
Japan started their 2013 Confederations Cup campaign with a 3–0 loss to Brazil. They were then eliminated from the competition after losing to Italy 3–4 in a hard-fought match but received praise for their style of play in the match. They lost their final match 1–2 against Mexico and finished in fourth place in Group A. One month later, in the EAFF East Asian Cup, they started out with a 3–3 draw to China. They then beat Australia 3–2 and beat South Korea 2–1 in the third and final match in the 2013 EAFF East Asian Cup to claim the title. The road to Brazil looked bright as Japan managed a 2–2 draw with the Netherlands and a 2–3 victory over Belgium. This was followed by three straight wins against Cyprus, Costa Rica and Zambia.
Japan was placed into Group C at the 2014 World Cup alongside the Ivory Coast, Greece and Colombia. They fell in their first match to Ivory Coast 2–1 despite initially taking the lead, allowing two goals in a two-minute span. They drew their second game to Greece 0–0. To qualify for the second round, they needed a victory against Colombia and needed Greece to beat Ivory Coast. Greece beat Ivory Coast 2–1, but Japan could not perform well against Colombia and were beaten 4–1, eliminating them from the World Cup. Alberto Zaccheroni resigned as head coach after the World Cup. In July 2014, former Mexico and Espanyol manager Javier Aguirre took over and Japan lost 0–2 to Uruguay in the first game he managed.
Aguirre would begin a strong revamp of the team, switching out Zaccheroni's long-used 4–2–3–1 formation for his own 4–3–3 and applied this with a roster of the J.League's finest, dropping many regulars. A 2–2 draw against Venezuela was followed by a 1–0 victory over Jamaica. However, they lost their following match to Brazil 4–0, with Neymar scoring all four goals. Japan's sights turned to January and their title defense at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
Japan won its opening match at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Group D against Asian Cup debutantes Palestine 4–0, with goals from Yasuhito Endō, Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda via a penalty and Maya Yoshida. Okazaki was named man of the match. They then faced Iraq and Jordan in their next group matches, which they won 1–0 and 2–0 respectively. They qualified to knockout stage as Group D winner with nine points, seven goals scored and no goals conceded. In the quarter-finals, Japan lost to the United Arab Emirates in a penalty shootout after a 1–1 draw, as Honda and Shinji Kagawa missed their penalty kicks. Japan's elimination marked their worst performance in the tournament in 19 years.
After the Asian Cup, Aguirre was sacked following allegations of corruption during a prior tenure. He was replaced by Vahid Halilhodžić in March 2015. Japan started on a rough note during qualification, losing to the UAE 1–2 at home. They then picked up the pace in their other qualifier games against Iraq, Australia, and Thailand, picking up 5 wins and 2 draws. Then, on 31 August 2017, Japan defeated Australia 2–0 at home thus qualifying them for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, making it their sixth successive World Cup. However, the Japan Football Association decided to sack Halilhodžić on 9 April 2018, only ten weeks before the World Cup finals, citing reasons of a breakdown in relationship between coach and player, and poor recent friendly results, and appoint the Technical Director, Japanese coach Akira Nishino, who had managed the Japanese Under-23 team at the 1996 Olympics, as the new manager.
Japan made history in the 2018 FIFA World Cup by defeating Colombia 2–1, their first ever victory by any AFC team against a CONMEBOL team in an official tournament, as well as Japan's first ever victory at the FIFA World Cup finals in UEFA nations. Their second match ended in a draw against Senegal, with one goal scored by Takashi Inui and the other by Keisuke Honda. Japan were defeated in their last group game in the Group H against Poland 0–1, leaving Japan and Senegal tied for second with an identical record, however, as Japan had received two fewer yellow cards, Japan advanced to the knockout stage on the Fair Play Points tiebreaker, the first team to do so. The match with Poland caused controversy; as Japan were made aware of their advantage over Senegal with ten minutes left and decided to play an extremely conservative game, passing the ball around to one another and keeping it in their own box, seeking to avoid any bookings and didn't attempt to take any serious shots on goal, despite losing 0–1, with some fans booing the players. The match received comparison to the 1982 World Cup Disgrace of Gijón, in which a similar game was played. Japan were the only AFC team to have qualified to the knockout stage. In the Round of 16 against Belgium, Japan took a surprising 2–0 lead with a goal in the 48th minute by Genki Haraguchi and another in the 52nd by Takashi Inui, but yielded 3 goals afterwards, including the winner by Nacer Chadli on the counterattack in the 94th minute. This was Japan's third time having reached the last 16, equaling their best result at a World Cup. Japan's defeat to eventual third-place finishers Belgium was the first time a nation had lost a knockout match at the World Cup after taking a two-goal advantage since England lost to West Germany 2–3 in extra-time in the quarter-final of the 1970 edition. However, Japan's impressive performance was praised by fans, pundits and medias for their fighting spirits, as demonstrated by Japan's win over Colombia, a draw to Senegal and a strong counter offensive against heavyweight Belgium.
Japan participated in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and had an almost successful tournament. The team easily topped group F after defeating Turkmenistan 3–2, Oman 1–0 and Uzbekistan 2–1. The team, however, got criticized for its defensive approach, as Japan won the group with only one goal margin wins in all three matches and two later knockout stage's matches as Japan only beat fellow powerhouse Saudi Arabia in the round of sixteen and dark horse Vietnam in the quarter-finals both with 1–0 margin. The semi-finals saw Japan put the best performance up to date, thrashing rival powerhouse Iran 3–0 to reach the final. However, Japan's hope to win the fifth Asian Cup in two decades shattered with the team suffered a 1–3 loss to Aspire-based Qatar and finished runners-up of the tournament.
Japan were invited to the 2019 Copa America, their second appearance at the tournament, and brought a young squad to the competition. They were in Group C with Uruguay, Chile and Ecuador. They lost their opening match, 0–4 to Chile. Japan, however, bounced back well and managed to unluckily draw against football giants Uruguay 2–2, who were deemed to been saved by VAR. Japan needed a win against Ecuador to qualify for the knockouts, however they drew 1–1 and missed out due to inferior goal differences to Paraguay. Aftermath saw Japan played a friendly game against the Paraguayans, and won 2–0 at home.
Japan was grouped with Myanmar, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. In a pretty easy group, Japan proved to be the dominant force in their group, having cruised Myanmar, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan without conceding a goal so far.
In December, Japan participated in the 2019 EAFF E-1 Football Championship hosted in South Korea. Coach Moriyasu summoned a young and inexperienced squad for the competition. With the young squad, Japan only managed to win against China and Hong Kong, and lost to rival South Korea, finished second in the competition.
CrestThe crest or emblem of the national team was adopted in late 2017 as part of a larger rebranding by the Japan Football Association. The crest features the Yatagarasu, a three-legged crow from Japanese mythology, holding a solid red football. The text "JFA" is inscribed at the bottom of the crow. A red stripe is also present at the center of the shield behind the crow. The shield has a metallic gold trim and has a thicker black outline. The name of the country represented by the national team "Japan" is also inscribed within the black border.
The previous crest had a shield with a more complex shape. The ball held by the Yatagarasu had white details. The text "Japan" is absent and "JFA" is written in a different typeface.
NamesThe Japanese team is commonly known by the fans and media as Sakkā Nippon Daihyō, Nippon Daihyō, or Daihyō as abbreviated expressions. Although the team does not have an official nickname as such, it is often known by the name of the manager. For example, under Takeshi Okada, the team was known as Okada Japan. Recently, the team has been known or nicknamed as the "Samurai Blue", while Japanese news media during the 2018 FIFA World Cup still referred it to by the recently departed manager's last name, as "Nishino Japan".
KitsThe national team kit design has gone through several alterations in the past. In the early 1980s, the kit was white with blue trim. The kits worn for the 1992 Asian Cup consisted of white stripes with red diamonds. During Japan's first World Cup appearance in 1996 Asian Cup and in 1998, the national team kits were blue jerseys with red and white flame designs on the sleeves, and were designed by JFA. The 1996 design was reproduced in a special kit used against Syria on 7 June 2017.
Japan uses blue and white rather than red and white due to a superstition. Japan used blue shirts in a 3–2 victory over Sweden in the first game of its maiden major international competition, the 1936 Summer Olympics. When Japan was coached by Kenzo Yokoyama the kits were red and white, matching the colours of Japan's national flag. After failures at 1990 FIFA World Cup and 1992 Summer Olympics qualifications, the red shirt was scrapped.
In the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, Japan temporarily switched the colour of the numbers from white to gold.
Japan's kit is provided by German company Adidas, the team's exclusive kit supplier since April 1999. Before that, Asics and Puma had been the team's official apparel sponsor alongside Adidas.
SponsorshipJapan has one of the highest sponsorship incomes for a national squad. In 2006 their sponsorship income amounted to over 16.5 million pounds.
Primary sponsors include Adidas, Kirin, Saison Card International, FamilyMart, JAL, MS&AD Insurance Group, Asahi Shinbun, Mizuho Financial, Daito Trust Construction and KDDI.
MascotThe mascots are "Karappe" and "Karara", two Yatagarasu wearing the Japan national football team kit. The mascots were designed by Japanese manga artist Susumu Matsushita. Each year when a new kit is launched, the mascots change uniforms.
For the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Pokémon character Pikachu served as the mascot.
Fan chantingJapanese national team supporters are known for chanting "Nippon Ole" at home matches.
South KoreaJapan maintains a strong football rivalry with South Korea. The football rivalry is long-seated and is often seen as an extension of an overall historic rivalry between the 2 nations. Japan met South Korea 79 times, trailing the statistic at 14 wins, 23 draws, and 42 losses. In fixtures against South Korea, Japan scored 70 goals and conceded 153. Both countries have made themselves unrivalled in both Asian Cup and World Cup records, being the two most successful Asian countries, and have hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup in a joint bid.
AustraliaJapan began to develop a fierce rivalry with fellow Asian powerhouse Australia, shortly after the latter joined the Asian Football Confederation. The rivalry is regarded as one of Asia's biggest football rivalries. The rivalry is a relatively recent one, born from a number of highly competitive matches between the two teams since Australia joined the AFC in 2006. The rivalry began at the 2006 World Cup where the two countries were grouped together, and continued with the two countries meeting regularly in various AFC competitions, such as the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, the 2011 AFC Asian Cup Final and the 2013 EAFF East Asian Cup. Likewise, Australia and Japan also share a World Cup and continental records that is nearly unrivaled in Asia, and also similar that football is not the main sport in both nations until recently.
ChinaJapan also has a long-standing rivalry with China, because of historical tensions between two countries in the past. China is leading the series with 16 wins, with Japan only has 14 wins; however Japan has achieved more successes than China.
Coaching staffAs of 25 May 2020
, current head coach of Japan
|Head Coach||Hajime Moriyasu|
|Assistant Coach||Akinobu Yokouchi|
|Assistant Coach||Toshihide Saito|
|Goalkeeping Coach||Takashi Shimoda|
|Physical Coach||Ryoichi Matsumoto|
- , JFA.jp
Current squadThe following 23 players were called up for the 2019 EAFF E-1 Football Championship, held in December 2019.
Caps and goals as of 18 December 2019 after the match against.
- , JFA.jp
INJ Withdrew due to an injury.
PRE Preliminary squad.
RET Retired from national team.
U23 Included in the U-23 National Team.
Previous squads;FIFA World Cup
- 1998 FIFA World Cup
- 2002 FIFA World Cup
- 2006 FIFA World Cup
- 2010 FIFA World Cup
- 2014 FIFA World Cup
- 2018 FIFA World Cup
- 1988 AFC Asian Cup
- 1992 AFC Asian Cup
- 1996 AFC Asian Cup
- 2000 AFC Asian Cup
- 2004 AFC Asian Cup
- 2007 AFC Asian Cup
- 2011 AFC Asian Cup
- 2015 AFC Asian Cup
- 2019 AFC Asian Cup
- 1995 FIFA Confederations Cup
- 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup
- 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup
- 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup
- 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup
- 2003 East Asian Football Championship
- 2005 East Asian Football Championship
- 2008 East Asian Football Championship
- 2010 East Asian Football Championship
- 2013 EAFF East Asian Cup
- 2015 EAFF East Asian Cup
- 2017 EAFF E-1 Football Championship
- 2019 EAFF E-1 Football Championship
Updated to 14 November 2019:
Team recordsUpdated 23 January 2015
; Biggest victory
; Heaviest defeat
; Most consecutive victories
; Most consecutive matches without defeat
; Most consecutive defeats
; Most consecutive matches without victory
; Most consecutive draws
; Most consecutive matches scoring
; Most consecutive matches without scoring
; Most consecutive matches conceding a goal
; Most consecutive matches without conceding a goal
- AFC National Team of the Year
- Japan Professional Sports Grand Prize
Fixtures and results
- , JFA.jp
Head-to-head record against other countriesAs of 19 November 2019.
FIFA rankingsLast update was on 25 October 2018.
Worst Ranking Best Ranking Worst Mover Best Mover
- Olympic Games
- FIFA Confederations Cup
- AFC Asian Cup
- Asian Games
- Far Eastern Games
- Dynasty Cup
- East Asian Football Championship
- EAFF East Asian Cup
- EAFF E-1 Football Championship
- Afro-Asian Cup of Nations
- AFC – OFC Challenge Cup
- Kirin Cup
FIFA World Cup
AFC Asian Cup
Copa AméricaJapan is the first team from outside the Americas to participate in the Copa América, having been invited to the 1999 Copa América. Japan was also invited to the 2011 tournament and initially accepted the invitation. However, following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the JFA later withdrew on 16 May 2011, citing the difficulty of releasing some Japanese players from European teams to play as replacements. On the next day, CONMEBOL invited Costa Rica to replace Japan in the competition.
On 16 August 2013, CONMEBOL president Eugenio Figueredo announced that Japan was invited to the 2015 Copa América. However, Japan later declined the invitation due to scheduling problems.
On 14 May 2018, CONMEBOL announced that Japan, alongside Qatar, would be the two invited teams for the 2019 Copa América.