Monday 14 June 2010

World Cup Special 1 - Japan vs. Cameroon preview



Tactics have continued to dominate the headlines in the build-up to Japan’s opening Group E match against Cameroon in Bloemfontein tonight as coach Takeshi Okada looks to fine tune his belated pre-World Cup switch to 4-1-2-2-1 from the 4-2-3-1 system favoured throughout qualification.

Central to the new formation is attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda, who turned 24 yesterday, but the CSKA Moscow star looks set to be given an unfamiliar centre-forward role after playing up front during training this week and in a hastily-arranged practice match against Zimbabwe last Thursday.

The recent change in approach came about after a series of poor friendly performances - including comprehensive home defeats to South Korea and Serbia’s B team - in which the midfield pairing of Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe struggled against their opponents’ heavy pressing. Yuki Abe has since been deployed in a purely defensive midfield capacity to bring greater solidity and balance during narrow warm-up losses against England and the Ivory Coast.

Goalscoring, however, remains a problem, with Shinji Okazaki in particular struggling to bring the form that saw him score 15 international goals last year into matches against stronger opposition. The idea floated this week is that Honda’s strength and creativity will allow other attacking players to be brought into the game more effectively if fielded up front in the Shimizu S-Pulse hitman’s stead.

Such a move would nonetheless represent a major gamble. Honda has never played as a forward before, and failed to trouble the Zimbabwe goalkeeper during a goalless practice game played over three 30-minute periods. Takayuki Morimoto of Catania took the lone striking role in the second period on Thursday and remains another option despite enjoying little playing time under Okada thus far.

The other major team news for Japan is that long-serving talisman Shunsuke Nakamura is set to start on the bench despite recovering from the ankle knock that saw him play a reduced role in the recent series of friendlies. The former Celtic and Espanyol star has struggled for form since returning to the J. League with Yokohama F Marinos earlier this year, and the two attacking midfield berths now appear likely to be filled by Yoshito Okubo and Daisuke Matsui.

Yasuyuki Konno is close to a full recovery after injuring his right knee against the Ivory Coast ten days ago, and is expected to edge out Atsuto Uchida at right-back.

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Cameroon boss Paul Le Guen surprised journalists at his press conference on Saturday by announcing that Arsenal midfielder Alexandre Song and Espanyol goalkeeper Carlos Kameni would be dropped from the starting eleven to face Japan. The Frenchman insisted that Song remains one of his ‘great players’ and seemed to imply that the move was merely temporary, but the prospects for Kameni look less promising after 36-year-old custodian Hamidou Souleymanou was declared as the clear first choice.

Kameni appears to have paid the price for a poor showing at January’s Africa Cup of Nations, in which Cameroon were eliminated at the quarter-final stage following a 3-1 extra time loss to eventual winners Egypt. The Indomitable Lions have since drawn with Italy and Slovakia in friendlies, but suffered narrow defeats away to Portugal and Serbia in warm-up matches earlier this month.

Tonight’s game will be the fourth time that Japan and Cameroon have met at senior level. Japan have hosted all three previous meetings and are unbeaten with two wins and a draw so far - current regular Marcus Tulio Tanaka opening the scoring last time around in a 2-0 victory in 2007 - but Cameroon are 11/10 favourites with Bet365 to gain revenge tonight.

The match kicks off in Bloemfontein at 4pm local time (11pm Japanese time).


World Cup results
Group A
South Africa 1-1 Mexico
France 0-0 Uruguay

Group B
South Korea 2-0 Greece
Argentina 1-0 Nigeria

Group C
England 1-1 United States
Slovenia 1-0 Algeria

Group D
Ghana 1-0 Serbia
Germany 4-0 Australia



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