An unheralded team often reaches the latter stages of the World Cup finals and ManUtd.com's James Tuck believes it could be Japan in 2014...
Shinji’s team are on the up and up. They waltzed through qualifying to become the first country to secure their place in the finals, other than hosts Brazil. Manager Alberto Zaccheroni, who has been there and done it in Serie A, has had nearly four years to mould his Samurai Blue squad.
Japan play an attractive, fluid, attacking brand of football in which there are key roles for Shinji and AC Milan star Keisuke Honda, whose status is such that he often relegates the United playmaker to a wide role. The duo have 40 international goals between them but Japan’s success has been based on team-work and high-tempo endeavour, which could be a valuable weapon in energy-sapping conditions.
This is regarded by many as the golden age of Japanese football and many of their World Cup squad are based in Europe, including Inter Milan’s Yuto Nagatomo, Schalke’s Atsuto Uchida and skipper Makoto Hasebe, of Eintracht Frankfurt. Yasuhito Endo is an exception but the experienced Gamba Osaka midfielder has the creativity to unlock any defence in South America.
I’ve consulted an octopus, who tells me Japan will finish top of Group C, above the Ivory Coast, and then cause something of a surprise by winning their last-16 clash with Group D runners-up Italy, before bowing out bravely to eventual winners Brazil in the last eight. Other United players may go further in this tournament, but Shinji’s men can definitely upset the odds.