Japan's first World Cup captain Masami Ihara expects a solid backline led by his protege, Arsenal's Takehiro Tomiyasu, to be vital for his country's success should they reach next year's finals in Qatar.

Having seen Japan make huge strides since their tournament debut in 1998 with an entirely J-League-based side, the 54-year-old Ihara believes the current manager, his former Japan teammate Hajime Moriyasu, has players with the best potential yet.

The Samurai Blue's World Cup history began 23 years ago in Toulouse, France, where the all-round center-back Ihara led his team out against one of the tournament's favorites in Argentina.