Hard-working Japan could outlast Les Elephants.
Of the five African nations competing in this year’s World Cup finals, the Ivory Coast look best equipped to make an impact though they have failed to make it past the group stages in two previous attempts.
Sabri Lamouchi has a wealth of attacking talent at his disposal, led by Didier Drogba. Yaya Toure, Cheick Tiote, Wilfried Bony, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou are other names familiar to Premier League fans and Liverpool’s Kolo Toure will be at the heart of their defence.
Goals, therefore, shouldn’t be a problem – but stopping them going in at the wrong end might be. They kept only three clean sheets in eight qualifying matches and have been known to freeze on the big occasions.
Les Elephants folded tamely against eventual winner Nigeria in last year’s Africa Cup Of Nations quarter-finals and their squad is an ageing one which might wilt in the humidity of Recife, especially when faced with the energetic running of Japan.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s team made hard work of qualifying having been the top seeds in the Asian section. But lessons will have been learned from their Confederations Cup experience in Brazil last year and they’ll be one of the best prepared this time around.
A win in Belgium at the end of last year and a draw with the Netherlands showed just what the Japanese are capable of and they arrive at the tournament in good form having won the East Asian Cup in South Korea and beaten New Zealand, Cyprus and Costa Rica in recent friendlies.
AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda and Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa are their best known players outside of Japan but Shinji Ozaki has already shown he can score goals at the highest level and will need to be watched carefully. Japan have reached the last 16 in two of the last four World Cups and that doesn’t look beyond them again given Group C looks one of the less-competitive sections.
Japan’s technical ability and fantastic endurance should stand them in good stead this year and they can edge out the Ivory Coast in the Arena Pernambuco and get their tournament off to a winning start at 19/10. A 2-1 correct score in favour of the team from the Far East is 19/2.
The first ‘really late’ fixture for those die-hard fans who won’t miss a beat – the match kicks off at 2am UK time on Sunday, June 15th in Arena Pernambuco, Recife.