World Cup Group C | Recife | Sun 15 Jun | 2am
A chance to get off to a flyer in an open group.
IVORY COAST GEAR
Ah, Group C. No clear favourites, no obvious whipping boys, but plenty of intrigue and clashes of footballing culture wherever you look.
Both of these teams qualified handsomely, but neither will have faced anything like the other in the preliminaries. Crucially, perhaps, in more challenging conditions, Japan are comfortable in possession and, as you’d expect from a team managed by an Italian, Alberto Zaccheroni, well organised defensively. They do, though, live up to the national stereotype of not being the tallest team, which may be a problem against Les Elephants, who also have plenty of giraffes in their ranks.
One of these, Yaya Toure, comes into the game not only off the back of an outstanding season and furore about his club future, but also under an injury cloud. Japan’s own talisman, defensive midfielder and captain Makoto Hasebe, is also touch and go for the game; as if the Samurai Blue didn’t already have their hands full with the pace and power of Didier Drogba, Wilfried Bony, Gervinho and, if fit, Toure.
A weakness at centre-back and in goal, though, could leave the west Africans exposed to Japan’s two locksmiths, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.
What the local media say
Both teams are having their chances of progressing from the World Cup’s most open group and beyond talked up.
The Japan Times says if “Zaccheroni’s side can fulfil its potential… who knows where it could end up” while Ivory Coast are “determined to write a new chapter in their country’s history” according to allAfrica.com. No pressure.
Key battle: Serge Aurier vs Yuto Nagatomo
One right-back, one left-back, both arrive in Brazil off the back of excellent seasons for their clubs and will be expected to provide their teams’ attacking width. If they don’t have their hands full with each other, that is. Fascinating.
Facts and figures
- Despite going out in the 'Group of Death' in their only two previous tournaments, Ivory Coast have the best goals/game average of any African side at World Cups (1.5).
- Didier Drogba has only had 2 shots on target in 384 minutes at the World Cup, with both ending up in the back of the net.
- Keisuke Honda has been directly involved in 3 of Japan's last 4 World Cup strikes (2 goals, 1 assist).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Potentially the game of the first round of matches. Technically adept Japan to lay down a marker as one of the dark horses. 1-2.