Japan face Greece in this Group C clash at the Estádio das Dunas, Natal, on June 20 from 8am (AEST).
The Asian Champions could be saying ‘Sayonara’ to Brazil as early as Friday morning if they cannot improve on their lacklustre display they produced against Cote d’Ivoire in their cup opener.
By the time their second game against Greece starts, the Colombia v Cote d’Ivoire game will be well and truly completed, and both Fernando Santos and Alberto Zaccheroni will have a clear picture of what lies ahead if they are to progress past the group stage.
Both nations were disappointing in their opening matches.
Greece never appeared in the contest against group favourites Colombia, and Japan felt the full brute force of the ‘Drogba effect’.
Japan will be looking to take advantage of the shaky Greek defence but appeared disinterested when they fell behind against Cote d’Ivoire. If this happens again it will be exit stage left.
Head to head
Almost nine years to the day Japan defeated Greece 1-0 in their only meeting at the 2005 Confederations Cup held in Germany.
Losing your first game at the World Cup isn’t ideal, but don’t hit the panic button yet. Normally reliant on its steady defence, Greece will need to find an outlet to goal, against what can be a tricky Japanese defence.
Thirteen goals in their last 12 games doesn’t make for great reading, given the plethora of goals scored at this World Cup so far. When you take into account this 12-game spell includes two matches against the 150th ranked Liechtenstein it highlights the attacking problems faced by manager Fernando Santos.
Ivorian and Arsenal striker Gervinho made it two goals in as many minutes to end the hopes of the Blue Samurai in Recife. Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima made a meal of the second goal, but his outfield players failed to show any intensity for the final 20 minutes of the clash.
Japan was outplayed in every facet of the game and their dependable midfield could only manage 43% possession against the Africans.
Colombia and Cote d’Ivoire are clearly the better two teams in the group, making this a mini elimination match.
The big issue
Where is Shinji Kagawa? After suffering a forgettable season at Manchester United Kagawa couldn’t produce any spark that was required for the Japanese to gain anything out of the match.
The attacking midfielder will be called upon once again and the weight of the nation could be too heavy a burden for him to carry.
Keisuke Honda cannot be the only supply outlet for the team, and Kagawa must produce if Japan are to progress to the next round. Kagawa appears to be displaying the effects of his limited playing time at Old Trafford.
Meanwhile, Greece appears out of their depth at World Cup level. Coming into the tournament ranked 12th only highlights the skewed rankings system used by FIFA. Greece is once again staring at a first round exit, a fate they suffered at the 1994 and 2010 cups.
The game breaker
Honda is the man most likely to bring success to Japan. His 16th minute strike was the only highlight on a forgettable day for the proud Japanese team.
The Milan star will need to bring his teammates into the game with his experience and technical ability. Honda has the ability to produce, the only question is can he do it when needed?
Prediction: Japan 2-0 Greece
Japan will be too strong for Greece winning a hard fought contest. Greece lacks the ability to score goals when needed, and this will lead to their downfall at this tournament.