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Japan's World Cup wins forged in crucible of European soccer

Record 19 members of roster play in Europe as top leagues notice talent

The Japanese team celebrates its second goal against Spain on Dec. 1. (Photo by Tomoki Mera)

TOKYO -- Japan's victory over soccer titan Spain on Thursday sending Samurai Blue into the World Cup round of 16 was achieved by players who have had more chances than ever to hone their skills in Europe's elite football clubs.

The Japan Football Association also provided support to ensure that top Japanese talent playing in Europe took part in the quadrennial tournament. Of the 26 players representing Japan this year, 19 currently are members of European clubs -- the highest total to date.

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