NATAL, Brazil, (Reuters) – After losing their Group C openers, Japan and Greece will be looking to rediscover the qualities which got them to Brazil as they bid to keep their campaigns alive at the Dunas arena today.
There is little doubt that only three points will do if either side is to extend their stay in Brazil beyond the group stage.
Japan’s attacking flair helped them become the first country to qualify for Brazil but they paid the price for uncharacteristic timidity after taking an early lead in their opening 2-1 loss to Ivory Coast in Recife.
Abandoning the fast, intricate inter-passing that gave them the lead through Keisuke Honda after 16 minutes, they sat back in defence and were ultimately bullied out of the contest by the powerful Ivorians.
“Possession, that is our strength,” striker Honda said this week.
“When we have the ball we just need to keep the ball and not give it away easily. When we do lose the ball we should press immediately. That is our philosophy.”
Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni is unlikely to make sweeping changes to his side, although Yoshito Okubo might have done enough as a substitute in Recife to get the nod over the disappointing Yuya Osaka up front.
Attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa has also taken some flak for his display against the Elephants but his place in the side is probably safe with Japan fans hoping he might be able to produce something special to unlock the Greek defence.
Former European champions Greece conceded four goals in 10 qualifying matches for Brazil but almost as many in their first match of the tournament, a 3-0 defeat to Colombia in Belo Horizonte. They came to the World Cup promising a more adventurous style and, considering themselves unlucky to have gone down by such a margin to the Colombians, will not be abandoning it.
“Everyone expected we would have 11 men behind the ball, defend, defend, defend and give everything to keep a clean sheet,” said experienced striker Giorgios Samaras.
“But I think what they saw was a team that likes to attack, that moves the ball really well, and that tries always to create chances.
“We went out to win against Colombia, and that philosophy will not change. We just hope it brings a better result for us because Japan is now a must, must-win game for us.
“We created chances against Colombia and that’s something we can’t forget. On another day, it could have been us winning, and that’s something we need to take into this massive match.”
That may be, but Portuguese coach Fernando Santos will certainly be hoping for an end to concentration lapses at the back that cost the team so dear in Belo Horizonte.
Tricky winger Giannis Fetfatzidis’s better ball retention might get him the nod ahead of forward Dimitris Salpingidis, while Fanis Gekas could make way for Kostas Mitroglou up front despite hitting the bar against Colombia.
“Mitrogoal” is Greece’s most expensive export and although a knee injury disrupted his preparations for the tournament, the time for caution is over.