By qualifying for a spot in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Japan’s national football team earned its sixth straight bid into the world’s most prestigious soccer tournament. Japan first tried to qualify for the World Cup back in 1954 and had nine failed bids before eventually breaking through the qualifying stage in 1998. Since then, Japan has qualified for every World Cup, escaping the group stage twice with Round of 16 exits in 2002 and 2010.
Japan’s Odds to Win World Cup: +20000
The World Cup betting board lists Japan as a +20000 underdog to win the tournament in 2018. These are the same odds that Nigeria and Peru are going off at, with the three teams sitting behind 21 of the 32 teams in the field and ahead of only eight. Japan’s discipline, structure and experience may make the squad a better bet than some of the other long shots on the board, but there is still a significant talent gap between this group and the world’s top teams.
Japan’s Odds to Win Group H: +700
Japan is going off at +700 to win Group H. These odds make Japan the biggest long shot to win the group behind Colombia (+120), Poland (+175) and Senegal (+500). Despite the long odds, Japan is actually part of a fairly favorable group. No other group has its least likely team to win paying better than +1200, and Colombia’s odds of winning the group at +120 are the longest among all of the group favorites.
The odds of Japan making its way out of the group are +185, while bets on Japan to fail to advance would pay -250.
Japan’s Best World Cup Bets
Instead of betting on Japan to advance out of Group H at +185, a better option could be to bet on the team to beat Senegal. Those odds are also going off at +185, with Senegal currently listed as a small favorite of +145 and draw odds paying +200.
The logic here is that predicting an outright upset over Colombia at +400 (with Colombia at -130 to win, +250 to draw) or Poland at +310 (with Poland at -120 to win, +225 to draw) may be a bit ambitious. So most of Japan’s roads into the Round of 16 would be earning three points with a win over Senegal. And in the event that Colombia and Poland advance as projected, bettors could still cash on Japan’s win all the same.
Bettors who are less high on Japan may instead opt to bet against them in the group stage. In the three previous instances that Japan has failed to escape the group stage, they didn’t win a single game, drawing twice and losing seven times.
Japan’s Players to Watch: Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa
Keisuke Honda has been a staple on Japan’s national soccer team for nearly a decade, racking up 36 goals in 91 caps for the national team, including a run of 10 goals in 14 games in 2015. Honda found the back of the net twice in the 2010 World Cup and once in 2014. The striker’s seven goals led the team through the qualifying stage.
Just behind Honda in scoring during qualifiers was midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who scored six. Kagawa has 29 goals in 89 appearances for the national team and has made a name for himself playing for some of the top clubs in the world over the last 10 years in Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United.
Japan’s Road to Russia
Japan received a bye into the second round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers of the Asian Football Confederation based on the team’s FIFA World Ranking. The team absolutely decimated Group E in the second round of the AFC’s qualifiers, finishing undefeated with a record of 7-1-0 while not conceding a single goal, outscoring opponents 27-0 in eight games.
With the field in the AFC narrowed down to 12 teams in two groups of six for the third-round qualifiers, Japan earned its spot in the World Cup by winning Group B. Against more legitimate competition, the scores weren’t so lopsided, but Japan still came out on top of a group that included Saudi Arabia and Australia with a 6-2-2 record and a goal differential of +10 thanks to 17 goals for and seven goals against.
Despite the solid showing through the qualifying stages, Japan does not enter Russia with much positive momentum. Since going 7-3-0 over its previous 10 matches, the national team is just 3-5-2 over its last 10 games including a 0-1-4 record in its last five games played outside of Japan.
|12||Masaaki Higashiguchi||GK||Gamba Osaka||4|
|23||Kosuke Nakamura||GK||Kashiwa Reysol||3|
|10||Shinji Kagawa||MID||Borussia Dortmund||91|
|16||Hotaru Yamaguchi||MID||Cerezo Osaka||41|
|17||Makoto Hasabe||MID||Eintracht Frankfurt||110|
|18||Ryota Oshima||MID||Kawasaki Frontale||5|
|8||Genki Haraguchi||FWD||Fortuna Düsseldorf||32|
|9||Shinji Okazaki||FWD||Leicester City||112|
|11||Takashi Usami||FWD||Fortuna Düsseldorf||23|
|15||Yuya Osako||FWD||FC Cologne||28|