Facts & figures: Japan

Factbox on World Cup qualifiers Japan: World Cup record

Previous appearances in finals: Three

Best performance: Last 16 2002

Coach: Takeshi Okada, in his second spell after taking Japan to their first finals in 1998. Took charge again in December 2007 after Bosnian Ivica Osim suffered a life-threatening stroke. Came under early criticism after some indifferent performances before securing World Cup qualification.

Key players:

Shunsuke Nakamura (Espanyol). Age: 31. Midfield.

Japan's most recognisable player since Hidetoshi Nakata's retirement after the 2006 World Cup, Nakamura is a former Scottish footballer of the year and a real threat from set pieces. Former coach Philippe Troussier's decision to drop him from his 2002 World Cup squad triggered a national outcry but he was unable to help a poor Japan side at the 2006 finals in Germany under Brazilian Zico.

Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse). Age: 23. Striker.

The diminutive forward could do no wrong in 2009, establishing himself as Japan's frontline striker with 15 goals in 20 internationals. An instinctive finisher with quick feet, he could be a handful for defenders at the World Cup if his confidence is high.

Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama F-Marinos). Age: 31. Defender.

The Japan captain was persuaded out of international retirement after Japan's quick exit from the 2006 World Cup. A no-nonsense centre-back, strong in the air and a danger from set pieces.

FIFA world ranking November 2009: 40

How they qualified: Japan became the first team to qualify alongside hosts South Africa after beating Uzbekistan 1-0 in Tashkent in early June. Okazaki's ninth-minute goal proved the winner and ensured the "Blue Samurai" returned to a heroes' welcome.

Prospects: Despite the relative comfort of their qualification, Japan coach Okada's stated goal of a semi-final place looks fanciful. Given a kind draw, Japan could force their way into the last 16, but they are still some way short of the 2002 side coached by enigmatic Frenchman Troussier.