Brazil vs. Japan
Venue: Estadio Nacional, Brasilia
Occasion: Confederations Cup Group A, Tournament Opener
Date: Saturday 15 June
Kick-off: 16.00 Local Time/15.00 ET/20.00 UTC
The Confederations Cup sparks into life with a clash between hosts Brazil and Asian Cup winners Japan.
Having broken their duck by beating France 3-0 in Porto Alegre on Sunday, the pressure has been somewhat alleviated from Felipe Scolari and his Selecao.
Nonetheless, as hosts and tournament favourites, there will a major expectation among fans in the federal capital. Felipao will be keen to get this crucial campaign off to a positive start by beating Japan, possibly the weakest team in the group.
While few will fancy the Blue Samurai to pull up any trees during this summer’s competition, Alberto Zaccheroni has built an accomplished outfit—Japan became the first team to join Brazil in qualifying for next summer’s World Cup.
With the dual threats of Mexico and Italy still to come, Zaccheroni and his team will be fully aware of the need to improve their defensive record and to hold firm in the face of Brazilian adversity.
Japan have never beaten Brazil in nine previous attempts.
In October 2012, towards the end of Mano Menezes’s ill-fated reign, the Selecao demolished the Japanese 4-0 in a friendly in Wroclaw. Neymar and Paulinho will be looking to replicate their impressive, goal-scoring performances of that friendly.
Japan may well take solace from their Confederations Cup record against Brazil. Twice the two nations have been drawn together in the summer showpiece, and twice the Canarinha failed to beat their opposition—two draws going down well in East Asia.
Player to watch
Naturally, the likes of Neymar for Brazil, and Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda for Japan are likely to court the majority of the headlines. Perhaps naturally so, Neymar has emerged as the Selecao’s full-blown star and their poster boy for the coming campaign.
Kagawa’s first season in England, with Manchester United, may have been modest, but if employed correctly by Zaccheroni, he has the capacity to trouble the Brazilian defence.
Instead, I am keen to see whether Paulinho and Makoto Hasebe can continue their exciting form of late.
The energetic holding midfielder Paulinho has become a mainstay in this Brazilian side and has attracted the attention of Internazionale and Monaco, among others.
Hasebe, on the other hand, is perhaps the crucial figure in Zaccheroni’s 4-2-3-1 formation; with boundless energy and a genuine desire to allow Japan to play, the form of their skipper will doubtless be crucial for their testing summer.
Injury has ruled striker Leandro Damiao out of the Confederations Cup, with former Everton and Manchester City forward taking his spot. A seemingly innocuous right thigh injury was sustained during a training session, but it has, unfortunately, cost Damiao his place in the squad, and given Jo an invaluable chance to stake a claim for a World Cup berth.
Japan are waiting to see quite how effective playmaker Keisuke Honda will be; the attacker has struggled with injuries recently, and his fitness is in doubt. The national side have struggled without him in the past, most notably in a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Jordan in late March.
Internazionale defender Yuto Nagatomo is another loss, as Japan’s suspect defence likely need all the help they can get—particularly when the likes of Neymar, Balotelli and Giovani dos Santos come to town.
While I do agree with some of Bleacher Report's readers that Japan are being underrated by the majority of observers ahead of the Confederations Cup, I can't see them escaping a very tricky group.
Buoyed by home support and their recent victory over France, I can see the Selecao comfortably dispatching the Blue Samurai.
Expect goals in this one!