World Cup | Japan and their number tens

Japan haven’t had a great record over the years in World Cups.

The 2018 Finals will be their sixth straight tournament but they have never got beyond the last 16.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom as there is one area that Japan have excelled in and that’s in the production of number ten style, attacking midfielders.

In each of those World Cup appearances, Japan have had at least one attacking midfielder who is generally their key player.

As one retires, another seems to appear to take the baton on and they always seem to have no problem filling the role.

The first man to fill the role, and arguably the biggest star of them all, was Hidetoshi Nakata.

Nakata participated in three World Cups for Japan, and was the main man in leading them to qualification for their first ever World Cup in 1998.

As good as Nakata was as a player, he was also a great ambassador off the pitch, and he became a huge star globally and not just in his home country, although in Japan he was often surrounded by mass hysteria from his fans.

The next man to emerge as a key attacking midfield option for Japan was Shunsuke Nakamura.

Nakamura had a wand of a left foot and to this day he is still regarded as one of the best free-kick specialists to have ever played the game. Nakamura played in two World Cups for Japan and also helped the national team win two Asian Cups in 2000 and 2004.


Nakamura’s international career came to an end after the 2010 World Cup and Japan needed a new talisman and in that 2010 tournament, Keisuke Honda stepped up to the mark.

Honda has been another excellent player for Japan and this summer will be his third and probably final World Cup. He was a member of the Japanese side that won the 2011 Asian Cup.

Honda will be joined this summer by another of Japan’s star number tens.

Shinji Kagawa will be playing in his second World Cup and although he is only two years younger than Honda he looks to be the heir to the throne in terms of starring for the national team.

Kagawa was also a member of the 2011 Asian Cup winning team.

At the moment there is no clear youngster coming through as the next star although one possibility is Shoya Nakajima.

Nakajima is more of a left sided player but he has just registered ten goals and ten assists for Portimonense of Portugal and he might just end up being the creative hub for his country in the years to come.

Whether it’s Nakajima or someone else, they will have big shoes to fill as Japan’s number ten, but you can be sure that someone will emerge and the Japanese national team and their followers will get behind whoever their next star number ten is.

Gerry Johnston


This article originally appeared on, where you can find a definite World Cup guide.