Japan’s frustrating draw against Greece on Thursday night means they have a uphill task to get past the group stages, with a victory and Greece win by 1 goal – to avoid going out on goal difference – needed. At last year’s Confederation Cup, Japan’s attacking football won them fans across the globe, but Japan have struggled to produce the same performances this summer.
The tactic against a 10-man Greece side saw Japan attack from out wide and deliver a number of crosses into the box, which was never going to work due to the physical difference between the defenders and attackers. Japan have technically good players in their squad who are comfortable on the ball, but a number of them suffered poor form in the season. Kagawa was dropped from the starting line-up – something that has continued into the World Cup and the failure to break down a sturdy Greece defence is likely to be a costly one.
In a must-win game, Kagawa is likely to return after his performance off the bench saw Japan improve slightly and the Manchester United playmaker was the architect of Japan’s best chance, with a great ball in behind the Greek defence. Often playing on the left for his country, Kagawa may force Japan to be fluent and play through the middle – which was desperately missing from the other night versus Greece – at a high tempo to stretch the centre-backs for a runner from midfield to exploit. The lack of a prolific goal scorer in the Japanese squad will continue to be an issue though and the pressure will be on the attacking trio – likely to be Kagawa, Honda, and Okazaki – to get beyond the striker.
Throughout this World Cup I have spoken about the quality of James Rodriguez at various times and in both games he has been extremely impressive for Colombia. The Monaco player has been at the centre of everything good for Colombia, whether he comes deep to collect the ball and begin a passing move or takes the ball on himself and run at the defence.
Another player who has been impressive during this World Cup is Juan Guillermo Cuadrado on the right flank. Japan’s need to attack could play into Colombia’s hands with Cuadrado’s pace causing problems throughout the season at Fiorentina and at the World Cup, where he can stretch defences and open up spaces for his team-mates. Counter attacking is a major strength for Colombia and this is where Cuadrado created one of his chances with a clever ball in between the Ivory Coast defenders. The winger has 3 assists to his name during this tournament, including a corner to break the deadlock in the last match, which started a period of dominance that helped Colombia to win the match. Doing his fair share of defensive work as well, with 2 tackles and 2 clearances against Ivory Coast, Cuadrado will be key for Colombia’s progression through the knockout stages and put an end to Japan’s hopes of getting to the last-32.
- On the two previous occasions Japan were knocked out in the group stage of the World Cup, Japan have failed win a match.
- Juan Cuadrado’s 3 assists is the most any Colombian player has achieved since the 1966 World Cup.
- James Rodriguez has now scored in all of his last 4 matches for Colombia.
The lack of imagination and invention by Japan in the Greece match and ease that Ivory Coast made chances in the opening game makes Colombia the favourites despite already qualifying for the knockout stages. The best Japan can hope for is a draw.
Japan 1 Colombia 2