It had taken 68 years but Japan finally made it to a World Cup in France in 1998.

Expectations weighed heavy.

The Japanese team was studded with some skilful players, not least Hidetoshi Nakata, one of the finest ever footballers from Japan.

Those expectations weighted a touch too heavy however, and there was little Nakata could do as Japan lost all three of their games and left through the earliest possible exit.

Four years later as co-hosts with South Korea, they showed what they are capable of. They came top of a very tough group containing Belgium, Russia and Tunisia, but poor defending in the last 16 game against Turkey cost them a place in the quarter-finals.

They qualified for Germany 2006 but as with 1998 did not make it past the group stages.

In South Africa, they once more reached the last 16 but suffered the cruel faith of losing on penalties to Paraguay.

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