|Profiles - World Cup Teams - Japan|
While Japan are unlikely to add the World Cup to their Asian Cup title,
the co-hosts proved by reaching the final of the 2001 Confederations Cup
that have come a long way under Philippe Troussier.
The Frenchman has moulded the Japan team into a cohesive unit capable of winning big matches even without the country's star player Hidetoshi Nakata.
The Parma midfielder was absent when the Japanese won the 2000 Asian Cup in Lebanon and also missed their successful Kirin Cup and Asia-Oceania Challenge Cup campaigns in 2001.
Junichi Inamoto, Shinji Ono and Naohiro Takahara have blossomed under Troussier and, with varying success, all three secured moves abroad last summer, much to the relief of the national coach, who is desperate for his players to gain international experience.
Inamoto, who joined Arsenal for £4million last July, has had a disastrous season at Highbury, and will be hoping dsperately for a return to his form of the 2001 Asian Cup in Lebanon.
Ono has been a revelation since Troussier switched the former Urawa Reds playmaker to the left side of Japan's five-man midfield.
A constant menace for opposing right-backs during the Confederations Cup, he increased his market value with a free-kick David Beckham would have been proud of in Japan's opening game against Canada.
A move to Dutch club Feyenoord followed, after which Takahara, who has scored eight goals in 14 internationals, opted to join Boca Juniors despite interest from a number of European clubs, including Arsenal.
Akinori Nishizawa's loan switch to Bolton proved a disaster, but the global trend continued when Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi agreed to join Portsmouth in October.
Jubilo Iwata midfielder Hiroshi Nanami also spent a season at Italian club Venezia in 1999, so Japan can claim to be a much more experienced side than the one which played three and lost three in their World Cup debut in France in 1998.
After winning just two of his first 10 games in charge, Troussier guided Japan to 12 wins in 21 matches as a policy of using players who have come through the youth and under-23 teams has paid dividends.
Japan have already beaten the likes of Cameroon, Paraguay and Australia, twice, and drew 1-1 against Brazil in the Confederations Cup when Troussier rested key players having secured top spot in their group with two straight wins.
Japan beat Australia 1-0 in the semi-final thanks to a free-kick from Nakata, who promptly returned to Italy for AS Roma's championship run-in instead of playing in the final against France in Yokohama.
The difference in class between the teams was evident as the world and European champions strolled to a 1-0 victory, but Japan had done enough in their four previous games to suggest that they will be no pushovers on home soil in 2002.
Their 1-1 draw with Italy in November emphasised the point and Japan are unlikely to be disgraced against any side in the finals.