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:
Japan: Kawashima, Konno, Uchida, Yoshida Nagatomo, Yamaguchi, Hasebe, Osako, Honda, Okubo, Okazaki
Greece: Karnezis, Holebas, Sokratis, Manolas, Torosidis, Katsouranis, Maniatis, Kone, Samaras, Mitroglou, Fetfatzidis
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.