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Sunday, 15 June 2014

World Cup 2014: Can Japan surprise in Group C?

By Steven Oldham

After Colombia's impressive win over Greece today their status as group favourites seems well earned, and a victory for either team in the upcoming game between Japan and Cote D'Ivoire could be key in deciding who makes the last 16.

Greece did themselves no favours today and look too limited going forwards to make the knockout rounds. Japan could take advantage of this and make the round of sixteen.

Ivory Coast's much-mentioned golden generation are now aging and their time to shine looks to have passed. They still have immense individual talent, but on too many occasions now at continental and global level they have failed to deliver. If they can finally get it together, they can qualify from what is a very open group.

Japan were the first Asian nation to qualify for Brazil, immediately gaining an advantage over continental rivals South Korea and Australia.

Last year in the Confederations Cup, Japan finished bottom of their group with no points.  However, that only tells half the story. Well beaten by Brazil, they came very close to upsetting Italy and gained much praise for their attacking style of play before going down 4-3. Not many teams put 3 past the Italians and they were unlucky to lose.

In Shinji Okazaki they have an in form striker who topped the scoring charts in the Asian qualifying section. He also hit 15 goals for Mainz this season in the Bundesliga. He has the potential to be the breakout star of this World Cup.

Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kawaga meanwhile will benefit from playing both regularly and in the right position.  A player gifted with great vision, pace and accuracy, frustrated by his lack of progress at club level he will be determined to shine at this World Cup.  

Can Shinji Kagawa take Japan to the last 16? (@ManUtdGram)
Defensively, they do still have room for improvement, but with the likes of Okazaki, Kagawa and AC Milan striker Keisuke Honda in their ranks there is always the potential for goals, notice the plural.

They come into the tournament in form, having won four friendlies in a row, including a 3-1 win over Costa Rica who impressively defeated Uruguay earlier tonight. They have also defeated 2012 African Cup of Nations champions Zambia, New Zealand and Cyprus this year.

If Japan can defeat or hold a physical Ivory Coast side, they give themselves every chance of making the knockout stages for a third time. 

More World Cup content:

World Cup match report: Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica

World Cup 2014: Chile looking to put the heat on Spain and The Netherlands

World Cup 2014: Could Croatia be a dark horse?

World Cup: Spain 1-5 Netherlands: Robben and RVP run riot as Spanish capitulate