Sunday, June 13, 2010

Moment of truth for Okada's Japan


Samurai Blue.
Their team's preparation could hardly have been worse, but the wait is finally over for Japan fans as the Samurai Blue get set to make their bow at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Coach Takeshi Okada's embattled side turned in a string of poor performances in pre-World Cup friendlies, but there will be far more at stake when captain Makoto Hasebe leads his team out against Cameroon at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontain today.

Japan go into the match knowing that the clash with African hopefuls Cameroon arguably marks their best chance of victory, but given that a lack of goals remains a constant problem for Okada's side, all eyes will be on who the bespectacled tactician selects up front.

The consensus is that CSKA Moscow attacker Keisuke Honda may get the nod, despite the fact that he normally plays as a creative midfielder for his club side.

That would mean that Shimizu S-Pulse striker Shinji Okazaki will have to be content with a place on the bench, with Okazaki paying the price for his chronic lack of goals in 2010.

If Japan are struggling in attack, they're also less than watertight at the back, and inexperienced Kawasaki Frontale goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima may be preferred to error-prone veteran Seigo Narazaki in goal.

Yet it's several old stagers who Japan are likely to rely upon for defensive inspiration, with the talismanic Yuji Nakazawa set to lead by example alongside Marcus Tulio Tanaka in central defence, while Okada favourite Yasuyuki Konno looks set to get the nod at right-back over former incumbent Atsuto Uchida.

Whatever his formation, Okada will be acutely aware of the intense scrutiny his side face from both the Japanese and international press. His claim that Japan should aim for a semi-final berth was met with widespread derision both at home and abroad, and anything less than a win over Cameroon will almost certainly spell a swift World Cup demise for the Asian football heavyweights.

It's all eyes on the Free State Stadium then, as Japan look to lay the ghosts of 2006 to rest with a convincing opener against their unpredictable opponent. Whether they have the personnel required is the question on everyones' lips.

Copyright © Mike Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com


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