Japan vs. Greece: 50-50 Challenge
Our expert bloggers will give their thoughts ahead of each game, so as Japan take on Greece in Group C, Ken Matsushima (Japan) and Chris Paraskevas (Greece) are your guides.
What's at stake?
Ken Matsushima: Both teams are fighting for their lives in Group C after disheartening losses. For Japan the situation may be even more serious, as their final match is against Colombia, the favourites in this group. A draw will probably put both teams out of the running, while a loss would end their participation in this year's World Cup with one match left to play. Greece are generally viewed as a defensive team, difficult to break down and generally disposed to play for a scoreless draw or a 1-0 win. However, after losing to Colombia 3-0, the Greeks are now in a hole based on goal difference.
They may have to adopt a slightly more aggressive stance. For Japan, this presents both good news and bad news. The good news is that there might be a bit more room to work with on the attack. The bad news is that Greece will try to use their size advantage at every opportunity.
Chris Paraskevas: Greece's last competitive match against Japan was nine years ago at the Confederations Cup. The Japanese won that match 1-0 against the European champions, who went out of that tournament without scoring a goal. Unless Fernando Santos' side can turn things around in Natal, they could be looking at another goalless campaign. Greece's World Cup survival is on the line here, and realistically, only a win will do with a final group game against Ivory Coast to follow.
With Japan in an almost identical position -- arguably more in need of a victory with Colombia their final opponent -- there's everything to win and everything to lose.
KM: Based on the goal he scored against Ivory Coast, Keisuke Honda will receive particular attention from the Greek defence. This will place more weight on the two Shinjis to perform. Kagawa was a real disappointment against Ivory Coast, and Okazaki was not much better. If those two fail to make an impression in this contest, Japan is in real trouble. But the defensive focus on these three midfielders might leave some room at the back for a speedy striker to be utilized. In that case, Yoichiro Kakitani will probably start up front since Yuya Osako's main strengths (height and post play) will be neutralised by the tall Greek defence. Kakitani has excellent speed and good finishing skills if he can get into space behind the defenders. This could be his big chance to impress European scouts.
CP: Giorgos Karagounis. The Greece captain is set to return to the starting lineup among a raft of changes to the first team. He is the beating heart of this side, and despite his age (37), he is the most creative of the midfielders available.
Karagounis will be fired up for this match after failing to start against Colombia, and his ability from set pieces could be really important here. Expect him to provide his usual array of passing, energy and theatrics. He's a player who makes things happen.
KM: I think Greece will try to capitalize on their height advantage, especially on set plays. Georgios Samaras is a very accomplished finisher in those situations. With a two-inch height advantage over Japan's tallest players, he is sure to be a dangerous scoring threat any time a high ball is sent into the box. Japan will need to deny crosses from the flanks and be particularly careful not to concede many set plays. Keeping Samaras under wraps is absolutely essential.
CP: Honda. A fine footballer who isn't always at his best for Japan but does seem to reserve his biggest performances for when they need it most. He is an even bigger threat from dead-ball scenarios than Karagounis, while his movement and willingness to shoot from range will make him a menace to the Greek defence and its goalkeeper, Orestis Karnezis. Honda has the ability to win the match in an instant.
KM: From a defensive perspective, I think the battle between Maya Yoshida and Samaras will be critical. However, what Japan really need to do in this game is attack, attack and attack. If they can score early, this will force the Greeks to come out of their shell and create a dynamic that is favourable to Japan. The longer the game remains scoreless, the more difficult the task will be. Therefore, the matchup between the two Greek central defenders (presumably Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kostas Manolas) and Japan's two penetrators (Okazaki and Kakitani) is a key for the Samurai Blue. Even if they do not score themselves, Kakitani and Okazaki can use their speed to disrupt the back line and give the midfielders some gaps to shoot through. Both need to be constantly in motion and as aggressive as possible with the ball at their feet.
CP: Vasilis Torosidis vs. Yuto Nagatomo. This promises to be a truly fascinating battle between the two full-backs, both of whom love to get forward but offer a real contrast in style.
While Torosidis relies on explosive pace and power, Nagatomo is an extremely cultured, quick footballer who will look to get behind the Greek backline. With the way these two teams set up to play, their full-backs are so important, and it's in this department that the game could be won and lost.
KM: This game will go one of two ways. If Japan score first, forcing the Greeks to press forward, the Samurai Blue can use speed, passing skill and penetration to take full control of the contest. On the other hand, if the Greek defence holds up, one set play is all they will need to claim the victory. This will either be a 1-0 victory for Greece or a more one-sided score line for Japan (perhaps 3-1). The opening half hour may be the most critical part of the entire contest.
CP: Greece 2-0 Japan. With the return of Karagounis to the starting lineup -- as well as Kostas Mitroglou -- the Greek players will finally awaken from their slumber and leave their mark at the World Cup.