Who? Colombia - Japan
Where? Mordovia Arena, Saransk
When? June 19, 14:00 (CET local time)
Colombia (Idan Seggev)
Four years ago Colombia finished the group stage with a wonderful 4:1 victory over Japan and on Tuesday they will face the Japanese again, this time in the opening match of group H. Colombia landed in Kazan where they will stay during the tournament and was surrounded by many fans who waited for the players at the airport. They even came in the day after for the practice. The atmosphere is amazing and reminds a lot of the support Colombia had in Brazil which was very important to their success.
In the last few days there were some concerns regarding the fitness of both James Rodriguez and Wilmar Barrios. While all the team practiced together, they stayed at the gym with a doubt of not being completely fit for the first game. However, in the last couple of hours, the Colombian staff confirmed that both players overcame their minor injuries and will be fit to play. Barrios won’t start anyway, but James is probably the most important player of Colombia, so you can understand the sound of relief from the fans.
According to the last practice, Pekerman will use his regular 4-2-3-1 formation with goalkeeper David Ospina, Mina and Davinson Sanchez as the center-back duo while Arias will be the right-back. The left-back will be chosen between Mojica and Diaz. Carlos Sanchez and Mateus Uribe should start in the middle of the field while Cuadrado, James and Muriel will be the attacking midfielders. Falcao in his World Cup debut will be the only striker up front.
In every World Cup tournament which Colombia won their opening match, they qualified to the next round. A victory over Japan will increase the chance to keep the statistics straight.
Japan (Yossi Medina)
Before the first game of Japan in this World Cup, it is clear now that the team is in trouble. The decision to sack Vahid Halilhodžić seems as a mistake, while Akira Nishino failed to impress his players. In the warm-up games, Japan lost twice to Ghana and Swtizerland, but at least ended them with a 4:2 win against Paraguay.
The Japanese squad includes players who play in Japan or Europe, but there is only one player that plays in a different place and will be the one that may help Nishino. Veteran Keisuke Honda will maybe play his last World Cup and get a chance while he plays for Pachuca from Mexico. While some may be deterred from his decision to play there, Honda gets another opportunity to be part of a Japanese success.
Eight years ago, Honda made a remarkable tournament, as he scored against Cameroon and Denmark in the group stage. These goals were important in securing the knockout stage spot back then. In a complete difference, in Brazil he scored only once against Ivory Coast. That goal was not enough, as Japan eventually lost this game and made a horrible performance that ended in the last place of the group.
These three goals put Keisuke Honda as Japan's World Cup topscorer. Alongside with another teammate, Shinji Okazaki, he will try to be the first Japanese to score in three different World Cups. Now it's the time to see whether he can give Japan another great tournament or it will be an early elimination for the Blue Samurais.