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 By John Duerden

Can Akira Nishino get Japan on course in time to make World Cup impact?

Akira Nishino's years of experience with Japanese football made him the obvious hire for the World Cup.

Just two months ahead of the 2018 World Cup, Akira Nishino has his hands full after being named as the new Japan coach on a Monday that will live long in the memory of football fans in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Dawn brought rumours that Vahid Halilhodzic, appointed in 2015, had been fired. The morning continued with reports that confirmed the Bosnian's exit and the afternoon ended with a Tokyo press conference that explained the thinking behind it. It was also used to announce that Nishino will...

 By John Duerden

Japan's form and style lacking as they get closer to the World Cup

Japan struggled in recent friendlies, falling to Ukraine and drawing with Mali.

Two months ahead of the World Cup should be a time for excitement and anticipation, but there are worries in Japan. On June 19, the Samurai Blue take on Colombia in the opening game of a Group H that also contains Senegal and Poland, and as coach Vahid Halilhodzic said in March, the Japanese are not ready.

When looking at results, the Bosnian seems right. Since qualification was secured in August with a win over Australia, Japan's form has been questionable, with just three wins out of nine friendly...

 By John Duerden

Asia's World Cup preparations: How are Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia set?

The FC crew debate the necessity of the March international break, weighing the positives for national team coaches ahead of the World Cup against the risks it poses for club teams.

All five Asian World Cup participants are busy in this international break. ESPN FC takes a look at where they all stand as Russia 2018 comes into view.

JAPAN

Opposition: Mali and Ukraine. After tests against Brazil and Belgium last year, Japan stay in Europe for what should be easier games.

The squad: Keisuke Honda returns for the first time since November while injuries rule out Shinji Kagawa and Premier League due Maya Yoshida and Shinji Okazaki. Yosuke Ideguchi -- the midfielder who scored the...

 By John Duerden

Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa must make peace with Japan coach Vahid

Japan's Vahid Halilhodzic has been experimenting with new players and combinations ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

It was striking in November's friendlies against Brazil and Belgium that coach Vahid Halilhodzic decided to drop Shinji Okazaki, Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda from the Japan squad.

But in a World Cup year, Japanese fans will be hoping that the superstar trio returns for the next international action in March, just three months before their opening Group H match in Russia.

Here are five Japan football wishes for 2018.

1. Make peace with the big three

Halilhodzic chose to go into November internationals...

 By John Duerden

Mat Ryan with something to prove with Australia at World Cup, Japan content

PJ Roberts and Jason Dasey analyse the World Cup draws for the record five Asian teams at Russia 2018.
PJ Roberts and Jason Dasey analyse the World Cup draws for the record five Asian teams at Russia 2018.
PJ Roberts and Jason Dasey analyse the World Cup draws for the record five Asian teams at Russia 2018.

Of all the Asian stars who will be heading from the Premier League to the World Cup next June, Australia and Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan is the one with the most unfinished business. The good news is a group containing France, Denmark and Peru looks a lot better than in 2014.

Back in Brazil, Ryan had not long replaced the venerable Mark Schwarzer as the Socceroos No.1 and had a tough time as Australia were faced with the toughest of groups with Spain, Netherlands and Chile.

The Aussie, 22 at the...

World Cup Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

The ESPN FC crew discuss the World Cup draw.
The ESPN FC crew discuss the World Cup draw.

Make no mistake: Group H is for hipster. This is an eclectic and very even group of teams with super middleweights in the form of Poland and Colombia and the not-to-be-underestimated in Senegal and Japan. It promises to be a load of fun.

Predicted finish

1. Poland -- There's more to Poland than Robert Lewandowski. This team has a very good spine in Wojciech Szczesny, Kamil Glik and Grzegorz Krychowiak and feels more complete than the rest.

2. Senegal -- Sadio Mane and Keita Balde...