Japanese expert Sean Carroll goes head to head with African football specialist James Bennett ahead of the nocturnal Group C match in Recife...
James Bennett on Ivory Coast: It looks increasingly likely that Sabri Lamouchi will again select Ivory Coast's captain and talisman Didier Drogba as the lone striker against Japan. While Wilfried Bony, eleven years his junior, is in very good form, the aura of the great man is something the Swansea star cannot match. Drogba will be supported by Gervinho and Salomon Kalou from the flanks, with Yaya Toure providing the link between midfield and attack. Former Leicester centre-back Sol Bamba will line-up alongside veteran Didier Zokora at the back.
Sean Carroll on Japan: Captain Makoto Hasebe is Japan’s major injury doubt, but regular right-back Atsuto Uchida and centre-back Maya Yoshida look to have proven their fitness. Eiji Kawashima will be between the posts and Yasuyuki Konno should partner Yoshida, with Yuto Nagatomo at left-back. Hotaru Yamaguchi (alongside Yasuhito Endo if Hasebe doesn’t make it) will anchor the midfield, while Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda, and Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa will line up behind the sole striker – most likely to be Yoichiro Kakitani.
James Bennett on Ivory Coast: In qualifying, Les Elephants were exceptional, breezing through their group unbeaten and defeating Senegal in the play-off. But outside that, their form has been patchy, with their Africa Cup of Nations defeat to Nigeria last year still fresh in the mind and only one win in their last four friendlies. This was against El Salvador in Texas last week, when they took an early 2-0 lead courtesy of Gervinho and Drogba, before conceding a late penalty which made it seem tighter than it actually was. Before that, they had been beaten 2-1 by Bosnia & Herzegovina in St Louis, with Drogba scoring a late free-kick as a consolation.
Sean Carroll on Japan: The last warm-up game was an outrageous 4-3 win over Zambia. Japan fell 2-0 behind inside half an hour but had assumed a 3-2 lead by the 75th minute – Keisuke Honda slotting home a penalty, Kagawa netting a fortuitous cross-cum-shot, and Honda sliding home the third – before they conceded an equaliser in the 89th minute. Yoshito Okubo was on hand to secure their fifth straight victory, though, smartly converting in injury time. That topsy-turvy, end-to-end drama sums up the team’s style of late: they have kept just two clean sheets in eleven games, while scoring 25.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAY:
Sabri Lamouchi on Ivory Coast: "I think that the four teams in this group are level. Each has its style, each has a chance of going through. For me, the favourite is Colombia, even if Falcao isn't there."
Alberto Zaccheroni on Japan: “I didn't think we played that well (in the 4-3 win over Zambia). I am not satisfied with the performance and I don't think we can carry on conceding goals like this.”
James Bennett on Ivory Coast: It's a toss-up between Drogba and Yaya Toure, but whether or not the captain can still perform is ultimately what is going to determine the Ivorians' fate here, especially with Toure carrying an injury. As we all know from his time at Chelsea, Drogba is always at his best on the big occasion, and has scored in both World Cups he has played in so far. Even at 36, he is still their main man.
Sean Carroll on Japan: Several players pose a threat for Japan going forward, but how they cope with the marauding runs of Yaya Toure going the other way could determine the outcome of this game. Hotaru Yamaguchi is just 23 but has started each of the last six games and is an all-action central midfielder capable of smart interceptions and quick, efficient passing. If he can stop Yaya having his cake and eating it then Japan should be ok.
James Bennett: Serey Die to pick up a card at 3.50 - Much of the focus in the deeper midfield roles will be on Newcastle's Cheick Tiote, who is not a stranger to getting into trouble himself, but Die of Basel also has a wild streak. In May 2012, he was banned for eight games for slapping a ball-boy in the face. This tip doesn't offer the longest odds odds in the world, but it's pretty dead set to happen.
Sean Carroll: It’s hard not to be tempted by a Ivory Coast/Japan half-time/full-time at odds of 34.00. As mentioned above, Japan are anything but tight at the back and conceded first in both of their last two warm-up games. They went on to win each of those matches though – 3-1 v. Costa Rica and 4-3 against Zambia – so have the belief and ability to come from behind and ultimately snatch victory.
James Bennett: Ivory Coast 1-1 Japan at odds of 6.30
Sean Carroll: Ivory Coast 1-3 Japan at odds of 23.00
Bet now on Ivory Coast v Japan.