The 1.75 price attached to Colombia implies a 57.1% chance that they beat Japan today. We think that’s generous given the difference in ability between the two squads, and where the respective nations sit in our in-house rating system.
Japan qualified for their sixth consecutive World Cup by winning Group B in the final round, topping the table above Saudi Arabia and Australia. They lost only two games during the qualifying campaign, one in their first match against United Arab Emirates and then in their final game against Saudi Arabia, when they had already guaranteed top spot. Strong defensive performances saw them only concede seven goals in their ten matches, including keeping four clean sheets.
However the World Cup finals themself really do offer a step up in class. Indeed, Japan lost 4-1 to Colombia at the last finals, and in the six subsequent games against teams ranked in the top 20 -as per Colombia’s position- Japan have lost five times and drawn once. All but one of these defeats has been by more than one goal, highlighting the gulf in class.
Furthermore, Japan’s preparations for this tournament have been slightly overshadowed. Akira Nishiro is the newest manager at the World Cup (bar Fernando Hierro of Spain), having only been appointed in April. It was described as an “emergency measure” after removing Vahid Halilhodzic; it appears the Bosnian had lost the confidence of the players, with communication problems also rumoured and that the team did not enjoy Halilhodzic’s negative tactics.
Nishino is considered one of the greatest Japanese managers after steering Gamba Osaka to their first Asian Champions League title in 2008 and helping Japan beat Brazil at the 1996 Olympics. He had been technical director at the Japanese FA and will need to adjust to the new role quickly. On his appointment, Nishiro has insisted that a fast, attacking style would be employed.
Japan have only won two of 13 World Cup matches and things didn’t look great when losing in warm-up friendlies to Switzerland and Ghana. However, the most recent game was a 4-2 victory over Paraguay.
Japan have tended to play in a 4-2-3-1, but in recent matches switched to 3-4-2-1. They’ll look to maintain a tight ship at the back, which starts with Eiji Kawashima, the Metz goalkeeper, who has amassed over 80 caps for his country and roughly concedes a goal a game.
The defence is marshalled by two players who ply their trade in Europe. The first of these being Maya Yoshida, who has impressed in the Premier League for Southampton and is a decent goal threat as well, picking up a goal every eight games for the national team. Alongside him will likely be Tomoaki Makino of Urawa Red Diamonds. Yuto Nagatomo of Inter Milan, who has bags of experience with over a century of caps and who has already represented the Samurai Blue at the last two World Cups, will play on the left while Hiroki Sakai or Genki Haraguchi will likely be on the right depending on formation and attacking intentions. The midfield will be anchored by Makoto Hasebe, the captain with over 100 caps. He has played over 250 games for Frankfurt in the Bundesliga and also offers versatility given he can play part of a three man defence. It will also likely see Hotaru Yamaguchi, a defensive option, or Ryota Oshima in the midfield.
Typically, Japan have played a possession based game with a tough edge and under Halilhodzic, the more stylish players such as Keisuke Honda (who now plays at CF Pachuca in Mexico), Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund often found themsleves at odds with the manager over how they would fit in to this rigid and drilled style. Honda did get seven goals though, in the qualifying rounds, and will need to be in that type of form here if Japan are to get anything from the game.
Whilst opponents Colombia did beat France 3-2 recently, their other two warm-up friendlies were 0-0 draws with Australia and Egypt. They will need star-man Radamel Falcao -the country’s all time top-scorer- to be prolific in front of goal, mainly from James Rodriquez’ service today. Both have enjoyed superb domestic seasons for Monaco and Bayern Munich respectively and coach Jose Pekerman will be confident his team can improve on their 55.5% win ratio under his stewardship.
The very reason Pekerman has come under criticism in Colombian media, is what can help his team win today: a pragmatic style of play rather than worrying about beautiful football. Getting to Russia wasn’t an easy ride for the cerebral manager, and Colombia didn’t secure the final CONCAF qualification spot until the last round of fixtures. That being said, it’s a notoriously difficult section which contains perennial tournament contenders Brazil and Argentina, as well as a reemerging Uruguay and the recently dominant Chilean force.
Probably the most worrying factor to come out of the qualification process was the lack of an established back line. Ospina enters as the definite number one in goal. But there are a host of defenders, including established international Cristian Zapata, highly promising starlet Davinson Sanchez, and new Barcelona signing Yerry Mina all vying for positions in the heart of that defence.
If Colombia do go a goal up and want to solidify their team, watch out for the ‘Colombian Kante’, Wilmar Barris of Boca Juniors. Some media outlets are adamant he should indeed take over from 33 year old Abel Aguilar in midfield alongside Carlos Sanchez of Fiorentina. In addition to the aforementioned Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado of Juventus offers a good attacking threat on the right hand side, often cutting onto his left foot.
Colombia -1 on the Asian Handicap could be a good play if the odds hit 2/1 quite early on. South American sides have beat Asian sides in nine of the last ten World Cup matches, with six of those victories clearing the -1 Asian Handicap. The outright win is the real bet though, now at 1.81 with BlackType.