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In 1991, the owners of the semi-professional Japan Soccer League agreed to dissolve the league and convert to the professional J.League to raise awareness and strengthen the national team program. The following year, Japan hosted and won the Asian Cup in their second appearance and defeated Saudi Arabia in the final 1-0. The J.League was officially launched in 1993, which increased the interest in football and the national team.
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However, Japan narrowly missed a ticket to the 1994 World Cup on their first attempt to qualify with professional players after a draw in the final match of the qualifying round against Iraq, which the fans remembered as the "Agony of Doha". Japan's next tournament was the defense of their continental title at the 1996 Asian Cup. The team won all their games in the group stage, but dropped out in the quarter-final after a 2-0 loss to Kuwait.
The nation's first World Cup appearance was in 1998, when Japan lost all its games. The first two games went 1-0 in favor of Argentina and Croatia, although they have played well in both games. Their campaign ended in a 2-1 defeat by Jamaica.
At the Asian Cup in 2000, Japan was able to recapture its title after defeating Saudi Arabia in the final and becoming Asia Cup for the second time.
Two years later, Japan and South Korea hosted the 2002 World Cup. After a 2-2 draw with Belgium in the opening game, the Japanese team advanced with a 1-0 victory against Russia and a 2-0 victory over Tunisia in the second round. Later they left the tournament, however, in the second round, after they had lost against the later third-placed Turkey 1-0.
On June 8, 2005, Japan qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, its third consecutive World Cup, defeating North Korea 2-0 on neutral ground. Japan, however, failed to qualify for the knockout round, losing 1-1 to Australia, 0-0 to Croatia and 1: 4 to Brazil.
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