Natal (Brazil): Japan and Greece face a high-stakes World Cup shoot-out here tomorrow after opening match defeats which have left their participation in the tournament hanging by a thread.
With Japan outmuscled by Ivory Coast 2-1 and Greece thumped 3-0 by Colombia on Saturday, defeat for either side in their Group C collision in Natal could well be terminal.
Whether Japan or Greece are heading for the exit on Thursday night will depend on the outcome of Colombia’s showdown with the Ivory Coast earlier in the day.
But what is not in doubt is that neither Japan nor Greece has much margin for error in Thursday’s 7:00 pm (2200 GMT) kick-off at the Estadio das Dunas.
Japan’s English-based defender Maya Yoshida believes it will be crucial for the Blue Samurai to score first against the Greeks.
“Of course we lost the first match so at the moment we’re very disappointed but we still have two games to go,” said Yoshida.
But Yoshida was adamant the Asian giants had not given up hope of progressing to the knockout rounds for only the third time in their history.
“Greece lost as well. They have good defenders and tactics,” said Yoshida.
“They have a good orientation defensively so if we get the first goal they have to come forward so we will have a chance to take more initiative.”
Keisuke Honda, who faded badly in the second half against the Ivorians after firing Japan ahead in the 16th minute, insisted his team-mates had picked themselves up after the defeat in Recife.
“We’ve got it out of our system,” said Honda. “Losing wasn’t what was shocking, it was not being able to play to our strengths.
“The best characteristics of the Japanese turned against us. We’re a diligent side and when we started trying too hard it destroyed us.”
But not everyone has been convinced. Former captain Hidetoshi Nakata, now a pundit commentating on the World Cup for public broadcaster NHK, questioned the tactics of manager Alberto Zaccheroni.
“We must think about what kind of game we want to produce because so far I’ve yet to figure out what kind of game Zaccheroni wants the team to play.”
Manchester United playmaker Shinji Kagawa suggested caution may have to be thrown to the wind if Japan are to avoid crashing out.
“Greece are going attack us, so we have no option but to start with the same strategy.”
But Greece’s national team manager Fernando Santos meanwhile believes he has pinpointed Japanese vulnerabilities after scrutinising their performance against the Ivorians.
We watched them play against Ivory Coast,” Santos said.
“We selected interesting information and we will inform our players during the next days.
“We have already watched Japan in the past and we know their advantages and disadvantages. We will be ready.”