Japan's Keisuke Honda celebrates scoring the opening goal during the group C World Cup soccer match between Ivory Coast and Japan at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, Saturday, June 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Game on: Lineups and talking points as Japan lines up against Greece

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Coming off a loss to the Ivory Coast, Asian champions Japan face a must-win today in Natal. Kicking off against Greece at 6:00 p.m. Eastern in Natal, the Samurai Blue will be left at the bottom of Group C and on the wrong end of their tie-breaker scenarios if they fall to the former European champions. While the Greeks would harbor slim hopes of advancing to the second round with a loss at Arena das Dunas, Fernando Santos’s team would lose control of its final 16 destiny if they fall to Japan.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of Thursday’s final kickoff:

[ MORE Group C: Greece falls to Colombia | Japan collapses against Ivory Coast ]
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Starting lineups

Japan: Kawashima, Konno, Uchida, Yoshida Nagatomo, Yamaguchi, Hasebe, Osako, Honda, Okubo, Okazaki

Greece: Karnezis, Holebas, Sokratis, Manolas, Torosidis, Katsouranis, Maniatis, Kone, Samaras, Mitroglou, Fetfatzidis

Talking points

1. Come on, coach – let them play  – Against the Ivory Coast, Japan head coach Alberto Zaccheroni had his team play passively without the ball, daring the Ivorians to break his team down. In the second half, les Elephants started to stampede, leaving Japan with a loss after they’d declined to put their best foot forward.

The Samurai Blue have some significant advantages over the Greeks, most of which are rendered useless if they sit back and defend. Will Zaccheroni loosen the reigns on talented players like Keisuke Honda (pictured)? If he does, the speed, movement, and technical quality of his squad should deliver three points.

2. Who is the Greek hero? – Speaking of sitting back, Greece is known for doing so, but it’s a formula that’s helped the team qualify for five of the last six major tournaments. The question, particularly during the last qualifying cycle, is how do they get their goals?

With Kostas Mitroglou misfiring, Santos is more dependent on the opportunism of players like Georgios Samaras – a talented, experienced forward who will probably attack from wide. Without a danger man in the middle, though, Greece’s counters miss a player who can worry Japan’s troubled central defenders. Will Mitroglou’s provide that presence?

Expectation: There doesn’t seem to be one. Thursday’s last game, coming after two more anticipated matches, Japan versus Greece has been overlooked. To the extent it has been discussed, pundits have focused on the teams’ first game failings rather than zeroing in on a prediction. According to a sampling of online sports books, however, Japan are the favorites.

One blogger’s prediction: Japan dictates play and creates more opportunities, but the defense that let them down against the Ivory Coast shows another vital crack, allowing Greece to take a 1-1.

Mourinho “working like never before” to turn Chelsea around

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Jose Mourinho got the dreaded much-needed vote of confidence from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich last weekend, seemingly giving the Portuguese manager a temporary stay of execution despite the Blues’ worst start to a season in 37 years.

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Speaking this week, Mourinho has revealed that while he’s thankful to have been kept on at the club for which he regularly professes his love, he still thinks it was no-brainer for Abramovich. In other words, Mourinho’s not backing down from his incredible, seven-minute rant to one question following Saturday’s defeat to Southampton.

Mourinho, on what he’s doing to turn Chelsea around — quotes from the Guardian:

“It shows the confidence of Abramovich in the manager who has won three Premier League titles with this club. I thank him and I keep working.

“What’s going on? I do not know. The results with Chelsea at the moment have been really bad. I cannot hide that reality, and I don’t want to. And I struggle to find an explanation. But I assure you: I’m working like never before and we will come out of this. And there is also the Champions League that we will not neglect, for certain.”

What did you expect from Mourinho? Well, you know, I should probably be fired, but thanks to Mr. Abramovich for not realizing this and keeping me employed? It’s simultaneously interesting and the least surprising thing ever, though, that Mourinho claims to not know what’s wrong with Chelsea at the moment. Of course he has a theory (or five), and of course he’s “working like never before” to correct it.

[ MORE: Ozil, Coquelin say Arsenal can win the title this season ]

The most fascinating thing about Chelsea’s sluggish start to the season is to see, hear and read Mourinho speaking from a position of powerlessness. Always the clever one, the one dictating where the discussion goes, the one in charge of every press interaction, Saturday’s rant felt like watching a desperate Mourinho grasping for anything by which to pull himself back up.

Reports link Guardiola with Manchester City summer move

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There are claims out of Spain that Manchester City has a verbal agreement to bring Pep Guardiola to town when his Bayern Munich contract expires in June.

Don’t expect comment from Guardiola, who bristles when discussing his future. In the past he’s hinted he might not be the right man for the Bavarian side, but has lamented any questions about clubs other than Bayern.

Now Mundo Deportivo writer Francesc Aguilar says there’s a secret agreement between Guardiola and Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain to reunite at the Etihad Stadium this summer.

[ MORE: Three big battles between U.S. and Mexico ]

Both Barcelona buffs and former Spanish internationals, Begiristain was Barca’s director of football when Guardiola took over for Frank Rjikaard in 2008.

Manuel Pellegrini signed a contract extension this summer and has led the club to a Premier League title, though the club has struggled in European competition. For what it’s worth, the Manchester Evening News got rumor reaction from Sergio Aguero:

On the latest Guardiola rumour, Kun said: “It has been talked about a lot. I don’t know him, but he’s a great manager and it’s wonderful to have the best managers train you.”

But he also added: “I’m very good with Manuel Pellegrini, we talk a lot. I’m happy in the team and with him, but the club will be the one who chooses who comes in.”

In other words, “I’m really good, and they pay me well enough that I’m prepared to play for any big name that arrives.”

It’s a story to keep up with, even as it intrudes on the seasons of two big, rich European clubs.