The last instalment of Saturday’s feast of football sees Ivory Coast face Japan in Group C, and setting the foundations for that group is hard to predict.
With the country’s ‘golden generation’ probably facing their final World Cup as a collective, the Ivorian players will want to make sure they live up to the promise that presented all of those years ago. This time around Ivory Coast have an easier group than in previous tournaments and the world class form of Yaya Toure this season could see them make the knockout stages.
The physical and dominant bursts forward from Toure this season for Manchester City were a joy to watch and his role in a similar attacking position could cause problems for Japan’s centre-back pairing – one being Southampton’s Maya Yodisha who struggled against physical threats in a number of his performances in the Premier League. Not only will Toure have the beating of his opponents, but his dribbles towards to the 18-yard box will draw out players and potentially leave spaces for the wide men – Gervinho and Kalou – to exploit or attract a foul from which Toure has been clinical from recently.
Japan are a team that are almost certain to entertain during this World Cup with goals coming in abundance at both ends of the pitch – their 4-3 friendly win over Zambia and last summer’s match against Italy in the Confederations Cup is an example of this. Their performance in Brazil last year saw Japan fail to get out of the group, but they managed to play good football through their technically efficient attacking players in the shape of Kagawa, Honda and Kiyotake.
In a group that is highly contested between all 4 sides, getting a victory in your first match is pivotal for the outcome of the final standings – and this means finding the back of the net even when the previous mentioned attacking players are not at their best. The improved goal scoring record of Shinji Okazaki for Mainz this season – scoring 15 in 32 games compared to 10 goals in the two and a half years beforehand – will needed to be transferred to the international stage. Okazaki’s ability to make runs in behind the defence coming off the right wing will attack the dubious Ivorian defence.
Premier League Watch
The Ivory Coast team boasts a host of current and former Premier League players in their squad, particularly on the attacking front. The predicted front 3 for the African team are ex-London based players in Kalou, Gervinho and Drogba – whose quality is known to everyone in this country. Surprisingly for those who haven’t heard anything of Kalou since his departure from Chelsea is the Lille forward top the goal scoring charts for Ivory Coast in qualifying (5), but his record in France is impressive with 30 goals in 66 matches. The current crop of English based players includes Wilfred Bony, the Toure brothers and Tiote.
Japan’s squad includes just the two players in comparison with Manchester United’s Kagawa regularly featuring on the left wing that many have claimed he cannot play in Engliand. The other Japanese player to apply his trade in England is Maya Yodisha who has spent the majority of his season on the Southampton bench.
- Ivory Coast are unbeaten in the last 8 matches, wining 5 and scoring 19 goals in the process.
- Japan have won 8 out of their 14 competitive games and scored 30 goals over that period.
- Over the qualifying process, Ivory Coast averaged 3.23 goals per game while Japan produced an average of 2.71 per game.
With the weaknesses of both teams in defence, this tie has the prospect of being a very good match with the main focus on attack. Whoever manages to be more clinical in front of goal will be the victor.