Tue, Jun 24, 2014 - Page 19 News List

WORLD CUP: To fight on, Blue Samurai must win Colombia battle

Reuters, CUIABA, Brazil

Colombia fans cheer in Bogota at the FIFA Fan Fest live projection of their side’s FIFA World Cup Group C match against Ivory Coast on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

The sun could rise again for Japan at the FIFA World Cup if they upset Colombia at the Arena Pantanal today, although they will also need the result of the other final Group C match to go their way.

Colombia have already qualified for the round-of-16, having bagged a maximum six points after claiming two wins for the first time in five appearances at the finals.

They will be joined in the last 16 by Ivory Coast, who have three points, if the Elephants beat Greece in today’s other Group C match.

Japan, who have just one point from their first two matches, can expect to find the going tough in the hot conditions in Cuiaba, which will better suit rivals who disputed their home games in the qualifiers at the steamy Colombian city of Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast.

They also face a side that iconic 1990s playmaker Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama said has recovered his country’s soccer identity under the guidance of coach Jose Pekerman and will be looking for a third win.

“I think these lads are making history... I feel admiration and respect for ‘the professor’ [Pekerman] with all he has done, he recovered the identity of Colombian football,” Valderrama told reporters.

Cristian Zapata, who has built a good central defensive partnership with captain Mario Yepes after first choice Luis Perea failed to make it to Brazil due to injury, said that despite having qualified, Los Cafeteros are not thinking about the last 16.

“From the start we’ve gone match by match, the next is against Japan, a difficult match in which we want to improve and also win,” Zapata told reporters.

Like those captained by Valderrama at three World Cup finals in the 1990s, Pekerman’s team espouse a fast-paced counterattacking game with overlapping fullbacks, an incisive playmaker in James Rodriguez and the scoring instincts of “Teo” Gutierrez.

They have five goals, two by Rodriguez, and will be looking for more, with Pekerman unlikely to do more than tweak his side.

The Blue Samurai have no option but to attack, which is the way they play best. Japan may command plenty of possession, moving the ball swiftly with many interchanges among the front four and fullbacks Yuto Nagatomo and Aysuto Uchida playing like wingers.

However, Japan have failed to click in Brazil after a promising start against Ivory Coast when Keisuke Honda scored their only goal so far before losing 2-1.

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