Ivory Coast Team - 2014 World Cup Betting
Best Finish: Last 16, 2002, 2010
Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni
Captain: Makoto Hasebe
Key Player: Keisuke Honda (Milan)
Group C: With Colombia, Greece and Ivory Coast (C?te d'Ivoire)
After finally launching a professional soccer league in 1993, Japan qualified for their first World Cup in 1998. Four years later, they advanced out of the group stage, which was a remarkable achievement for a nation that had only featured pro soccer for less than a decade. They accomplished the feat again in 2010 and have since turned out impressive friendly matches, tying the Netherlands 2-2- and beating Belgium in Brussels (both in 2013).
As for their run to the 2014 World Cup, Japan entered AFC qualifiers ranked number one out of 43 Asian teams. They held this billing too by winning Group B of the final qualifying round with a 5-2-1 (W-D-L) record. Japan's lone loss was to a decent Jordan squad on the road while they tied fellow Cup qualifier Australia twice.
One of Japan's biggest strengths is their manager, Alberto Zaccheroni. Having coached in Italian leagues for 27 years, he brought a wealth of experience to the Land of the Rising Sun in 2010. Since that time, he's managed to harness Japan's attacking talent and help this team compete with some of the world's best.
Keisuke Honda is one player who's benefited from Zaccheroni's coaching. The attacking midfielder not only does an excellent job at setting teammates up for goals, but he also scores plenty of his own. In 10 AFC qualifying matches, Honda found the net five times.
Left winger Shinji Okazaki is also going to be critical to the Japanese offense. He scored eight goals during the last qualifying round, which was half of Japan's total goal output. Ryoichi Maeda and Shinji Kagawa could also find the goal during the World Cup, given that they both scored four in qualifiers.
Moving to the back line, the "Blue Samurai" also have some solid players here too. Fullbacks Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida will definitely be formidable for opposing strikers, and they're a big reason why Japan only gave up five goals during qualifiers.
This team seems to feature good players all over the field. And they also have the element of surprise because Japan is vastly underrated. That said, it wouldn't be a shock if they find themselves in the knockout stages when group play is finished.