Featured Matches
Previous
Arsenal
Besiktas
1
0
FT
Leg 2Aggregate: 1 - 0
Game Details
Athletic Bilbao
Napoli
3
1
ESPNDeportes FT
Leg 2Aggregate: 4 - 2
Game Details
Bayer Leverkusen
FC Copenhagen
4
0
ESPN3 FT
Leg 2Aggregate: 7 - 2
Game Details
Aston Villa
Leyton Orient
0
1
FT
Game Details
Birmingham City
Sunderland
0
3
FT
Game Details
Stoke City
Portsmouth
3
0
FT
Game Details
Burton Albion
Queens Park Rangers
1
0
FT
Game Details
Arsenal
Besiktas
1
0
FT
Leg 2Aggregate: 1 - 0
Game Details
Athletic Bilbao
Napoli
3
1
ESPNDeportes FT
Leg 2Aggregate: 4 - 2
Game Details
Bayer Leverkusen
FC Copenhagen
4
0
ESPN3 FT
Leg 2Aggregate: 7 - 2
Game Details
Ludogorets Razgrad
Steaua Bucuresti
1
0
ESPN3 FT
Leg 2Aggregate: 1 - 1
Game Details
Malmo FF
SV Salzburg
3
0
ESPN3 FT
Leg 2Aggregate: 4 - 2
Game Details
Aston Villa
Leyton Orient
0
1
FT
Game Details
Birmingham City
Sunderland
0
3
FT
Game Details
Bradford City
Leeds United
2
1
FT
Game Details
Burton Albion
Queens Park Rangers
1
0
FT
Game Details
Stoke City
Portsmouth
3
0
FT
Game Details
Los Angeles Galaxy
DC United
2:30 AM GMT
Game Details
León
Herediano
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Municipal
Pachuca
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Cobresal
General Díaz
1
2
LIVE 76'
Leg 2Aggregate: 2 - 4
Game Details
Independiente Terán
Trujillanos
0
0
LIVE 79'
Leg 2Aggregate: 1 - 0
Game Details
Libertad
Nacional Potosí
11:30 PM GMT
Leg 2Aggregate: 0 - 1
Game Details
River Plate
Universidad Católica
11:30 PM GMT
Leg 2Aggregate: 1 - 0
Game Details
Internacional
Bahia
1:00 AM GMT
Leg 1
Game Details
Atlético Nacional
Deportivo La Guaira
2:00 AM GMT
Leg 2Aggregate: 0 - 0
Game Details
Alianza Lima
Barcelona
2:00 AM GMT
Leg 2Aggregate: 0 - 3
Game Details
Atletico Rafaela
Newell's Old Boys
2
3
FT
Game Details
Rosario Central
Godoy Cruz de Mendoza
0
1
FT
Game Details
River Plate
Defensa y Justicia
3
0
FT
Game Details
Estudiantes La Plata
Boca Juniors
12:30 AM GMT
Game Details
Irapuato
U.A.N.L
1
0
LIVE 47'
Game Details
Morelia
Celaya
3
0
ESPNDeportes LIVE 64'
Game Details
Oaxaca
Chiapas
0
0
LIVE 46'
Game Details
Atlas
Mineros de Zacatecas
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Correcaminos
Santos
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
UNAM
Mérida
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Zacatepec
Guadalajara
ESPNDeportes 2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
América RN
Atletico Paranaense
10:30 PM GMT
Leg 1
Game Details
Cruzeiro
Santa Rita
5
0
FT
Leg 1
Game Details
Botafogo
Ceará
0
1
LIVE 29'
Leg 1
Game Details
Bragantino
Corinthians
0
0
LIVE 28'
Leg 1
Game Details
Coritiba FBC
Flamengo
0
0
LIVE 29'
Leg 1
Game Details
Palmeiras
Atlético MG
0
0
LIVE 28'
Leg 1
Game Details
LDU Quito
Deportivo Quito
12:15 AM GMT
Game Details
FC Seoul
Pohang Steelers
0
0
FT-Pens
Leg 2Aggregate: 0 - 0FC Seoul win 3-0 on penalties
Game Details
Guangzhou Evergrande
Western Sydney Wanderers
2
1
FT
Leg 2Aggregate: 2 - 2
Game Details
Amazulu
Bloem Celtic
0
2
FT
Game Details
Mamelodi Sundowns
Orlando Pirates
0
3
FT
Game Details
Pretoria Univ
Free State Stars
0
1
FT
Game Details
Silver Stars
Kaizer Chiefs
0
2
FT
Game Details
SuperSport United
Mpumalanga Black Aces
1
2
FT
Game Details
Saprissa
Santos
Postp
Game Details
Carmelita
Club Sport Uruguay
2
0
FT
Game Details
Cartagines
Perez Zeledon
Postp
Postponed - now being played Sun, Aug 31
Game Details
Antigua
Marquense
9:15 PM GMT
Game Details
Petapa
Coatepeque
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Vida
Marathon
1:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Next
May 30, 2014

32 Teams in 32 Days: Japan

Japan became the first nation to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, but can they finish first in a wide open Group C?

Group C | Colombia | Greece | Ivory Coast


Team DNA

Manager Alberto Zaccheroni has slowly fine-tuned the Japanese team and personnel that almost reached the quarterfinals in 2010.

Some teams like to go wide and get behind the defence; but, first and foremost, Japan like to pass right through the middle. The Samurai Blue love to keep the ball and move it around at pace -- and with a team full of technically excellent players, they are often able to do just that.

Keisuke Honda plays in the hole behind the striker and makes the team tick in an attacking sense, linking up with Shinji Kagawa on his left and Shinji Okazaki to the right, with beautiful, intricate combination plays that will make a grown man weep. The team does sometime struggle to convert such plays into goals, however.

Team captain Makoto Hasebe sets the tempo in midfield with the two talented fullbacks getting forward as often as possible to add extra options. There are questions hanging over them about defensive lapses of concentration that will be answered one way or another over the next few weeks.

Starting scenarios

History

This is the fifth World Cup appearance for Japan. They reached the Round of 16 twice (2002, 2010) and finished ninth overall in both tournaments. In 2010 in South Africa, Japan pushed Paraguay to a penalty shootout, but lost and just missed out on a trip to the quarterfinals.

How they reached Brazil

For the third time running, Japan became the first team to book a World Cup berth. The scene was set in the final round of qualifying, as Japan kicked off with a 3-0 win against Oman followed by a 6-0 rout of Jordan. The Samurai Blue never relinquished the top spot. The only blip was a 2-1 loss in Jordan, which wasn't entirely unexpected. By then, it was a matter of when, and not if, Japan would qualify.

Despite missing Honda for a couple of games (knee injury), Kagawa and Okazaki were impressive, especially the latter, who played all but 20 minutes of the final round.

In the end, the only worry was that perhaps it was all a little too easy and Zaccheroni would have welcomed fiercer competition en route to Brazil. Some media pundits wanted a few more players to be given a go, but, all in all, it was a satisfactory campaign.

The numbers never lie

Calculating a nation's passion for the game based on how well it pays its manager, attends its games and gets out to play:

Key battles

In Group C, a victory against Colombia would be welcome, as Japan do not have the best of records against South American opponents (they lost all three matches at previous tournaments). But what comes next could be really interesting. What Japan have yet to do is to beat a genuine big team on the world stage. A trip to the Round of 16 could see a match against England or Italy -- either prestigious opponent would suffice.

Japan should have comfortably defeated Italy at the 2013 Confederations Cup, but lost 4-3. Righting that wrong would be a big step forward and welcomed by Zaccheroni. While there have been some impressive friendly results in recent years, Japan can only complete their journey to big-power status by beating a big power in a game that really matters.

Most important player

There are more famous faces and names further up the field, but Maya Yoshida could hold the key in Japan fulfilling their potential. The Samurai Blue Achilles' heel is the defence, especially the middle part of that backline. Bottom line: The defence has to hold firm, and much of that responsibility will be on the Southampton defender.

Comfortable on the ball, Yoshida has to show that he, alongside Yasuyuki Konno, are equally fine dealing with set pieces, high balls and fast attacks and ensuring that concentration levels stay high. Can Yoshida be the domineering and assertive defender that Japan has lacked since the 2010 duo of Yuji Nakazawa and Marcus Tulio Tanaka faded out of the picture? He has to be.

On attack, Honda and Kagawa are obviously important and dangerous, but Japan need Okazaki to carry his goal-scoring form for German club Mainz over to the World Cup.

Definition of success

A successful World Cup would be a place in the final eight, and perhaps beyond. It is not beyond the realm of possibility for a settled team that just missed out on the 2010 quarterfinals.

- Video: Japan odds in World Cup (Australia only)

The group, containing Colombia, Ivory Coast and Greece, is navigable, but tough enough to challenge and ensure Japan are moving at a high gear by the knockout stage.

How far will Japan go?

The quarterfinals are a real possibility.

ESPN FC Analysts' take: Shaka Hislop

Japan are a strong team, Creative and dynamic. Their pace of play is fantastic, and they're very quick going forward. With ninth-place finishes in 2002 and 2010, Japan will not be intimidated by anyone in group play.

Japan has a terrific midfield. The attacking midfielders - Honda, Kagawa and Ryoichi Maeda - combined for 13 goals in qualifying. The rest of the team really takes the creative lead of those players, especially Kagawa, who had good years with Manchester United, and Honda. The defence, a question mark after a poor Confederations Cup, allowed only eight goals in 14 matches in the final two rounds in Asia.

If they keep momentum from their qualification, Japan will be competitive.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.