Coming into the World Cup, Alberto Zaccheroni's side were seen as a genuine dark horses. Since the Italian took charge four years ago, the Samurai Blue have played with an exciting, high-tempo verve, maximising the excellent technical skill of their attacking stars. That made the defeat to Ivory Coast in their opening match all the more disappointing, and means they must beat Greece to stand any realistic chance of progressing into the knockout stages.
Fortunately, it's a game they really ought to win. Fernando Santos' side were characteristically defensive in their opening match against Colombia, and they didn't even manage to defend very well. They eventually lost 3-0 in a dismal showing in which they barely troubled Los Cafeteros' goalkeeper David Ospina at all. They look like one of the weakest sides in the tournament, and should struggle again here.
Unsurprisingly Zaccheroni was rather unimpressed by Japan's opening performance, and there may well be changes to their starting lineup for this one. One surprise omission was veteran defensive midfielder Yasuhito Endō, who could come back into the lineup ahead of Hotaru Yamaguchi. Fortunately the Blue Samurai don't seem to have any injury concerns.
Greece boss Santos could too make changes. One that looks particularly likely is the introduction of Fulham striker Konstantinos Mitroglou, who may be unfit after an injury-plagued half-season at Fulham, but who still looks a better option than the ageing veteran Theofanis Gekas. Genoa winger Ioannis Fetfatzidis could also displace Dimitris Salpingidis after looking lively in the second half of the Colombia match.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Greece (4-3-3): Orestis Karnezis; José Holebas, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Kostas Manolas, Vasilis Torosidis; Panagiotis Kone, Kostas Katsouranis, Giannis Maniatis; Georgios Samaras, Konstantinos Mitroglou, Dimitris Salpingidis.
Japan's pressing vs. Greece in possession - At the Confederations Cup last summer, Japan won admirers with their fearless, tireless pressing of their opponents when out of possession. However, after taking the lead against Ivory Coast early on, they delivered one of the most disappointingly standoffish performances of the entire season, virtually applying no pressure on the ball whatsoever. Against Greece, who lack great passers and pace up front, Japan need to maximise this strength and play more proactively when out of possession.
Shinji Okazaki vs. José Holebas - Predictably Colombia caused great problems down Greece's left side in their World Cup opener, largely thanks to the defensive incapability of left-back José Holebas -- who's perfectly good going forward, but rather more suspect at the back. He'll be up against Shinji Okazaki in this match, and will have to work hard to keep the Japanese winger quiet -- particularly with Okazaki coming into the World Cup on the back of an excellent domestic season with Mainz in the Bundesliga.
Japan's centre-backs vs. Konstantinos Mitroglou - Both of the goals Japan conceded against Ivory Coast came from deep crosses aimed at big, physical strikers. They'll likely come up against another one of those in Konstantinos Mitroglou, and despite his lack of form and match fitness, they'll have to handle him better than they did Wilfried Bony and Didier Drogba to keep him quiet.
Providing their confidence and morale hasn't been knocked too much by their defeat to Ivory Coast, Japan should have enough attacking talent and defensive organisation to get past an impotent Greece. Let's just hope they press, press and press some more. 2-0 Japan.