'Japan could be World Cup finalists'

Arsène Wenger
Arsène Wenger

Japanese football has made a giant leap forward in the past decade, according to Arsene Wenger.

The Arsenal manager spent 18 months in the Far East with Nagoya Grampus before moving to Highbury in 1996.

He has recruited two Japanese players himself since taking charge in north London - Junichi Inamoto and Ryo Miyaichi. And Wenger thinks Japan are a growing force on the international scene.

"Japanese football has moved forward fantastically well," he told Arsenal Player. "The best way to see that is from the number of Japanese players that play in the top clubs Europe, and are doing really well.

"The Japanese culture is well suited to team sport. They have a collective attitude, which is of course very well suited for football.

"The country that understood that very quickly is Germany, because there are many Japanese footballers in Germany, some of them are real stars. Kagawa has come over to England now for example from Dortmund.

"But basically Japanese players have done very well, because they had a youth system that was well organised, and that's why they produced good players so quickly."

Japan reached the last 16 of the World Cup as co-hosts in 2002 and again in South Africa in 2010. Wenger believes they will go further in future tournaments.

"Japan is a country of 130 million people in a very small space, but don't forget they did very well in the last World Cup," he said. "They came through a very difficult group.

"Can they do much better than that? I don't think they are a candidate to win the World Cup today, but when you look at their youth teams, Japan are dominant forces in the international tournaments.

"That means that their next step is to reach the semi-finals or final of the World Cup."

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