Japan have to beat an already-qualified Colombia to stand any chance of reaching the second round. Ahead of the clash in Cuiaba, we speak to experts Sean Carroll and Juan Arango for the lowdown on their respective teams.
Sean Carroll on Japan: It’s do or die for Japan and with the regulars having flattered to deceive there are calls for more vim and vigour in the side. Manabu Saito and Hiroshi Kiyotake have yet to feature but are direct and tricky forwards, and Yoichiro Kakitani – while having been in dire form all season – is another with the ability to run the Colombian defence ragged. He dropped Shinji Kagawa to the bench against Greece but with no suspensions or injuries few expect sweeping changes from an increasingly conservative Alberto Zaccheroni though.
Juan Arango on Colombia: Captain Mario Yepes is doubtful right now after having to leave Saturday’s practice with pain in his thigh. If he's not ready it would mean that Carlos Valdés could get the start against Japan in Cuiabá. Sevilla forward Carlos Bacca is in the final stage of his recovery from the thigh injury that had him out of practice the past week. Carlos Sánchez also could be out and the return to the starting lineup of Fredy Guarín is a possibility. There is also talk about River Plate defender Eder Álvarez Balanta making his World Cup debut as a midfielder should Guarín not make it, and also goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón getting a start. Of course, all this is speculation, as Pekerman will not give the lineup out until right before kickoff, but if Mondragón starts, he could become the oldest player to start in a World Cup at the age of 43.
Sean Carroll: The 0-0 with Greece was quite possibly the worst game of the finals so far, and while nobody expected Fernando Santos’ side to be expansive it was assumed that Japan would force the issue – especially after the Greeks were reduced to 10 men before half-time. The tempo was never upped though, and the same formulaic attacks were tried ad nauseam to no effect. Full-backs Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida ended the game sending cross after aimless cross into the box – hardly Japan’s forte, and an approach the Greek defenders routinely dealt with – suggesting that when Japan’s preferred style of play isn’t working they don’t have a Plan B.
Juan Arango: Colombia made history last week after they defeated Cote D’Ivoire 2-1 in Brasilia. José Pekerman extended his unbeaten streak in World Cups to seven matches while Los Cafeteros won two matches in the tournament for the first time ever. James Rodríguez became the third Colombian to score two goals in a World Cup and is tied with Bernardo Redín (1990) and Adolfo Valencia (1994) as the all-time top scorers in World Cup history for the national team.
WHAT THE MANAGER SAYS
Japan’s Alberto Zaccheroni: "We are not satisfied with the number of points we have at this stage of the tournament. We have one more match to go, but based on our performances so far, I am not happy at all."
Colombia’s Jose Pekerman: “We cannot start thinking ahead of time or what might be coming later on. We have a task right now and that is to get ready to play Japan."
Sean Carroll: Shinji Okazaki is not the most technically gifted player but he never fails to put in a shift for his side, and the 28-year-old is the most prolific scorer in Japan’s squad with 38 goals in 78 games. Goals are the order of the day for Japan and as Okazaki’s scoring record shows – he also struck 15 times for Mainz in the Bundesliga this season – he knows what to do to make sure he’s in the right place at the right time.
Juan Arango: Juan Fernando Quintero. This time last year, Quintero was the star for Colombia in the U-20 World Cup, now he’s one of the players positioning himself as one of the players to watch out for in the 2018 World Cup. Many were waiting for him to make an impact when he arrived to Porto and despite the club’s disappointing season, he showed signs of what he could do. In the match against Cote D’Ivoire, Quintero’s entrance changed the dynamic of the Colombian offence.Against Japan he could match up well, especially if he teams up with James Rodríguez.
Sean Carroll: You wouldn’t think it had you only seen their two games so far at the finals but Japan are no strangers to finding the back of the net, and their four matches ahead of the tournament saw them register 12 times. Defensively they are leakier than Julian Assange’s sieve though, and with them needing to go for a win or bust here both teams to score in both halves at 15.00 looks fairly tempting.
Juan Arango: After scoring his first goal in his World Cup debut, Quintero seems like a very good prospect to score against a Japan side that is on the ropes and looking for help to advance out of the group stage. I like Quintero to score at any time at odds of 4.50.
Sean Carroll: Japan 2-3 Colombia at 30.00.
Juan Arango: Colombia will be playing against a team that will be extremely fast, but they have the size advantage over them. Colombia should get a 3-1 result over the Samurai Blues, available at 19.00.
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