World Cup Group C preview: Cote d’Ivoire v Japan

In Group C Cote d’Ivoire take on Asian champions Japan at the Arena Pernambuco, Recife, on Sunday June 15 from 11am (AEST).

Japan will be looking for vast improvement from their lucky 4-3 win against lowly ranked Zambia.  After going 2-0 down, the team showed their fighting qualities to win the match. 

Early in the tournament this game will prove crucial to the hopes of Japan and their quest to the second round.

Cote d’Ivoire will be aiming for the three points as their window of opportunity for cup glory begins to close.  The likes of Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba look to one last chance to succeed on the world stage. 

Many of the Africans have enjoyed individual glory with their various clubs, but experienced limited success at international level.  Past draws haven’t been kind to Cote d’Ivoire, but 2014 represents their best chance to progress to the final 16.

Head-to-head

Played 3: Japan wins 2, Cote d’Ivoire wins 1.

The two nations have never met in a World Cup but have enjoyed success when playing a representative from their opposition’s confederation - Japan beating African nations twice and Cote d’Ivoire beating North Korea in South Africa 2010.

The game

Fortune favours the brave, but is Cote d’Ivoire brave enough? 

World cup football is a different beast and should suit the attacking styles of the African nation, but the disciplined Japanese midfield will want to shut this down. 

The match itself will be played on the terms of the Blue Samurai with Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa dictating play. 

Prolific scorer Didier Drogba will be looking to net in his third successive World Cup - the Japanese defence should be on high alert.

The big issue

Previous cups have seen Cote d’Ivoire with the misfortune of experiencing tougher groups than most.  Opponents have included quality opposition in Argentina, Brazil, Netherlands and Portugal. Excuses have been plentiful in recent times, but if the team returns home early, answers will be sought. 

Historically Cote d’Ivoire doesn’t play well under pressure.  As they walk out of the players’ tunnel their shoulders will feel the burden of expectation.  If Japan start well early on the weight of this expectation could be too heavy, even for this generation of stars. 

Toure has the ability to control his team’s emotions, but is currently in doubt with a hamstring injury sustained on the final day of the Premier League.

The game breaker

Toure had another standout season at Manchester City and was a big reason for Premier League honours returning to the club.  His ability to control most situations on the football field, and motivate those around him, speaks volumes about his abilities. If Toure starts this tournament well, Japan and the rest of the group are is some bother. 

Many will look towards Honda and Kagawa as the key players to Japan’s success, but it’s keeper Eiji Kawashima who may yet play the starring role.  Facing Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Wilfried Bony and Gervinho won’t be an easy task for the quality shot stopper but Kawashima should be up to the challenge. 

Kawashima boasts a record of more caps than goals conceded, and will have a big say in the Japanese campaign.  No stranger to performing in big games, Kawashima was a major reason why Japan was crowned Asian champions in 2011. 

Prediction

The Elephants aren’t strangers to scoring goals in the group stage, boasting nine goals in six games.  The strong attacking force of Cote d’Ivoire should be too strong for Japan, and will leave Japan trying to rescue their campaign next week against Greece. Prediction: Cote d’Ivoire 3-1 Japan.