Key Battles That Will Shape Greece's World Cup Clash with Japan

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2014

Key Battles That Will Shape Greece's World Cup Clash with Japan

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    Reeling from defeat in their respective World Cup openers, Japan and Greece meet on Thursday with their futures in the tournament on the line.

    Anything less than a win seems likely to render qualification from the group impossible. With so much at stake, the winners of the key battles in this fixture should emerge triumphant.

    Let's take a look at some of those battlegrounds...

Greece's Attack vs. Themselves, and Japan's Defence

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    Given Greece's inability to score—on full, dramatic show in their game against Colombia on Saturday—the first key battle must be the one fought in the minds of the Greek players.

    Definitely short on composure, and apparently short on confidence in front of goal, Greece's forward players did create chances during their 3-0 defeat, but they were not able to capitalise on them.

    Even if they can conquer their own demons, they will also have to get past a Japanese side who did a fine job of dealing with Cote d’Ivoire’s attack for most of their opener.

    That game changed with the introduction of Didier Drogba, but until then Japan’s well drilled 4-2-3-1 formation provided an effective barrier.

    With respect to Greece’s forward options, they do not match up well against Cote d’Ivoire’s. Salomon Kalou, Wilfried Bony, Gervinho and especially Drogba probably provided more challenge than Georgios Samaras, Dimitrios Salpingidis and either Fanis Gekas or Kostas Mitroglou will be able to.

    The clash between Gekas or Mitroglou and the Japanese centre-halves, Masato Morishige and Southampton’s Maya Yoshida, will be intriguing. The Japanese back line managed an almost mistake-free first hour against the Elephants, and they will provide a stiff challenge for Greece’s misfiring forwards.

Midfield Clashes

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    Given Japan's fine ball-retention against Cote d’Ivoire, it will be intriguing to see whether Fernando Santos recalls Giorgos Karagounis to the starting line-up in order for Greece to make better use of possession than they did against Colombia.

    Panagiotis Kone provided some creativity in that game, but Greece’s squad captain may be called upon to add guile to the midfield.

    Whether or not he does, the midfield clash will be key.

    Hotaru Yamaguchi and Makoto Hasebe occupied the deep-lying central midfield positions for Japan against Cote d’Ivoire, and in theory Santos' system should allow Greece to starve Japan’s attacking midfielders of possession by using their three central players to press Japan’s two.

    However, any lack of diligence on their part will leave Greece’s defenders with a lot to do against Japan’s four most attacking players, supported by their full-backs.

    It is crucial that Kostas Katsouranis is at his best in order to marshal his troops, especially if Karagounis is not selected. Katsouranis' role as a stopper is vital to the Greek system here.

Japan’s Attack vs. Greece’s Defence

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    Greece paid a heavy price for lapses in concentration against Colombia. If they are not at their sharpest, they risk a similar fate against Japan.

    In Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, operating behind the striker and off the left-hand flank respectively, Japan have a duo of attacking midfielders who certainly have the capability to cause Greece problems.

    FSV Mainz 05 forward Shinji Okazaki played off the right against the Ivorians, with Yuya Osako at No. 9, and they both have the ability to take advantage of any space created through over-attention on Kagawa and Honda.

    The centre-back pairing of Kostas Manolas and Sokratis Papastathopoulos is probably Greece’s best asset, but they will have their work cut out against an attacking line-up which combines fluid passing and movement with a high level of technical ability.

    Whilst Kagawa has flattered to deceive at Manchester United, his ability is not in question, and he is more than capable of both creating and taking chances.

    Honda's goal against Cote d’Ivoire showed how dangerous he can be if given space in the box.

    Manolas and Papastathopoulos will have a stern positional challenge to face, and they will need support from their full-back colleagues. As Kagawa drifts in from the left and exchanges passes with Honda and Osako, the Greek defence will have to be fully switched on in order to cope.

    On paper it looks like a tough day for the Piratiko, but they have surprised the world before, and they will look to do so again.