Japan vs Egypt: 6 Bold Predictions for Olympic Football Quarterfinal
Old Trafford plays host to two of the surprise contenders of the 2012 Summer Olympics football tournament quarterfinalists, Japan and Egypt.
Japan's U23 National team are made up of players primarily all still playing their club football in Japan, but the next most represented club league is the German Bundesliga which shows the importance of Japanese talent to the rise of central European football.
Egypt is almost entirely full of Egyptian-based players save for Mohamed Salah of Swiss-based FC Basel and Ahmed Hegazy of Italian club Fiorentina.
The two clubs have reached the quarterfinals having faced tough tests in the group stages.
Japan opened the tournament against recently crowned European champion Spain, who had a host of the senior national team in the squad. However, Japan shocked the world with a 1-0 upset of the Spanish giants who would eventually crash out.
The Asian islanders would then manage another hard-fought 1-0 victory over Morocco before ending their qualifying campaign with a draw against Honduras.
Egypt also faced a tough challenge against Brazil in their opening match, and despite having pushed the young samba stars to the end, they could not overturn a 3-2 defective.
With a hard fight to qualify, Egypt managed a tough draw against a resilient New Zealand side before hammering Belarus 3-1 in their final match of the group stage.
Now the two nations will collide in a showdown at Old Trafford that will see one of them head to the semifinals and give them a 75 percent chance of securing a medal for their country.
All statistics are compiled from match reports from the official site of the London Olympics, London2012.com.
Japan Go into a Shell
Although the Japanese are excellent if they want to go forward, after winning primarily defensively they are likely to retreat back into a shell and have it backfire.
Against Spain, the Japanese only had 35 percent of the possession, according to London2012.com, and against Morocco, only 42 percent.
The one match in which when they pushed forward more prominently against Honduras, a 51 percentage in possession only hindered their attack as they failed to score against the Central Americans.
If a victory is to be had for the Japanese, they have to pick their points in attack and wait for Egypt to make a mistake.
Egyptian Victory Depends on Ahmed El-Shenawy
While the Egyptian attack will be expected to be the nation's difference-maker, it truly will rest in the hands of goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shenawy.
The 21-year-old Zamalek shot-stopper is one of the brightest goalkeeping talents in Africa, and with his country likely to be on the offensive for the majority of the night, he will have to be the primary defensive mind all night long.
Keeping himself active and in the game, even if against the run of play, El-Shenawy has to step up and maintain his poise from the last two matches of the group stage.
Japan Draw First Blood Agains Run of Play
Although possession is likely to be in the hands of Egypt for the majority of the night, Japan have been deadly with building quickly on the counter.
Despite an average of only 38.5 percent possession in their first two group stage matches, the Japanese won them both 1-0, and I expect them to be the first on the score sheet even though I predict it to be completely against the run of play.
Japan Get Tough on the Tackle
Japan have only received a single caution this summer so far in the football tournament, but a little steel from the fighting Samurai could be needed against the Egyptian offense.
The Asian national will have to find a way to disrupt the African nation that will come at them all afternoon if they are allowed to, and the easiest way is likely to put some more tack in their tackles.
Egypt Take the Attack to Japan All the Way to the End
The Pharaohs are averaging over 18 shots per game with an average of 40 percent on target. Of those on target, the nation average a conversion rate of 27 percent.
Japan on the opposite side are only averaging just better than half the conversion rate of Egypt at 15 percent, and the Egyptian advantage is going to be exploited all night long.
A Brace from Mohamed Salah Sends Egypt Through
While Japan have managed to keep their goals allowed to only two in three games, they are due to make a few mistakes.
That is where young Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah comes into play as one of only a handful of player to score a goal in each of his group stage matches.
Salah is the permanent danger man for Egypt, and I see a strong two-goal performance being the difference to send the Pharaohs to the semis.