After three Paralympic appearances, Japan might have just the team this year to break onto the podium at Rio 2016.
The Japanese wheelchair rugby team will make their fourth consecutive Paralympic Games appearance at Rio 2016. And this appears their best chance of winning their first ever Paralympic medal.
Team Japan has shown progress since their fourth place finish at the 2014 International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) World Championships and maintained the same group of players ahead of the most coveted event in the sport.
After missing the podium at London 2012, where they lost 53-43 to the USA in the bronze medal match, Japan have set themselves to go one better at Rio.
The squad recently travelled to Australia to compete in their national wheelchair rugby championships and went through the competition undefeated. This included wins against Australian state teams and New Zealand’s national side.
Japan won the final against New South Wales, a team which featured the likes of Australian representatives Ryley Batt and Andrew Edmondson – both part of the London 2012 gold medal team.
A fortnight earlier, Japan also came away with the bronze medal at the hotly-contested Canada Cup, which included a victory against Canada that pushed the host nation to No. 4 in the IWRF world rankings.
Japan’s only two losses at the Canada Cup came to USA, who returned to world No. 1 after the event, and No. 2 Australia, by five goals each.
However, the result was enough to see Team Japan remain at No. 3 in the world rankings entering Rio 2016.
Japan was drawn in the same pool as the USA, Sweden and France, which has been regarded by many as the ‘easier’ side of the draw, with the likes of Australia, Canada, Great Britain and hosts Brazil making up the opposite pool.
The USA and Japan will be expected to progress through the group stage and should be very evenly-matched when they clash on 16 September on the final day of pool matches.
Japan starts its campaign for Paralympic glory on 14 September against Sweden and takes on France the following day, all at the Carioca Arena 1.
Veteran Daisuke Ikezaki will again be the go-to man for Japan during the tournament with his attacking ability needing to be at its absolute best.
Mid-pointer Shin Nakazato has also proven to be an important player in major tournaments for Japan and has the ability to free up Ikezaki from getting double-teamed by the opposition defence.
The full Japanese squad to heading to Rio 2016 is as follows:
Kotaro Kishi, Hidefumi Wakayama, Takahisa Yamaguchi, Tomoaki Imai, Seiya Norimatsu, Kazuhiko Kanno, Masayuki Haga, Takeshi Shoji, Shin Nakazato, Daisuke Ikezaki, Shinichi Shimakawa, Yukinobu Ike.
Six who return from London 2012, and they could be hungrier than ever for that eluding medal.
Beau Greenway is a volunteer writer for the IPC.
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs)
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.
Visa International is the exclusive payment card and the official payment system for the Paralympic Games.