Japan's World Cup opener on Tuesday offers the Asian side an opportunity for revenge against Colombia, as they look to finally banish the bad memories of the 2014 edition in Brazil.
Four years ago, Japan met Colombia in their final group outing knowing they still had a chance of reaching the knockout phase, but they were crushed 4-1 by the South Americans.
As it turned out, any victory that day in Cuiaba would have sent the Samurai Blue through at the expense of Greece.
And Eiji Kawashima, who let those four goals in, says it is time to for Japan to make amends, with retribution on their minds ahead of the meeting in Saransk.
"Obviously they have a lot of talent," Kawashima said. "They've got a scorer [Radamel Falcao], they've got a passer [James Rodriguez]. We'll try to be well organised and try to reduce their space.
"We've been suffering for the past four years because of 2014. This time, we have to show ourselves that we can do something better."
The man tasked with leading Japan in Russia is not the same one who guided them through qualification, as Vahid Halilhodzic was surprisingly fired in April with little explanation from the Japanese Football Association.
Akira Nishino was the one to benefit from the debacle and presided over their three World Cup warm-up games, which have been a mixed bag – 2-0 defeats to Ghana and Switzerland before a 4-2 win over Paraguay.
Colombia's preparations have been less tumultuous aside from a few injury scares and Abel Aguilar is certain he knows how their group rivals are going to play against them.
"We must have the initiative, this team has been characterised by that," Aguilar said. "We seek to be protagonists of the game because we have players to do it, however, defensive strength is very important in this type of tournament.
H - Based on our World Cup predictor, Opta give Colombia (55.0%) the best chance of progressing from Group H at the 2018 @FIFAWorldCup. Tight.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 12, 2018
For more info on the how the Opta Predictor is calculated, click here: https://t.co/O5yVz0Y0Zl#COL #JPN #POL #SEN pic.twitter.com/Le67seZH2z
"Our rivals are going to try to neutralise our best players, so we have to support them. They feel protected in certain situations, so our work in the middle is vital to provide balance to the team."
James has been suffering with muscle fatigue in recent days, but he is expected to be able to feature in some capacity.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Colombia – James Rodriguez
Even if he is unable to feature from the start, James will be key to Colombia's effectiveness in attack, having enjoyed a solid first season with Bayern Munich after a difficult start.
Excellent on the ball, capable of scoring and creating goals, James carries a threat all over the final third and will be eager to get off to a strong start as he looks to defend his Golden Boot from four years ago.
Japan – Yuya Osako
While the likes of Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki are more recognisable on the international stage, Osako is expected to lead the line and he plays an important role in the Japan side.
Although not a prolific scorer by any stretch of the imagination, Osako is strong at keeping hold of possession and bringing team-mates into play, vitally knitting things together in attack.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Top scorer for Colombia in the 2018 qualifiers and all-time at the World Cup, James has been directly involved in eight of his team's last 10 goals at the finals (six goals, two assists).
- Japan have won only two of their last 11 World Cup games (D3 L6), against Cameroon and Denmark in June 2010. They have also won just one of their five opening games in the competition (D1 L3), against Cameroon in 2010.
- None of Colombia's 18 games at the World Cup have ended goalless. In fact, only the United States (33) and Austria (29) have played more games in the competition without ever registering a 0-0.
19. September 2018
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