Ivory Coast kick off their FIFA World Cup 2014 campaign with a match against Asian giants Japan at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife on Saturday, June 14. The game actually starts at 2am UK time (Sunday Morning) so it may only be the hard core football fans who manage to stay awake for this one.
Ranked 23rd in the Coca-Cola FIFA world rankings, Ivory Coast will start off as a far superior team than Japan, who find themselves in the 47th spot.
Both nations qualified for the World Cup without a hitch. While Ivory Coast topped their group and went on to win their play-off match over two legs against Senegal by a 4-2 margin, Japan had initially come second in their group behind Uzbekistan. However, in the deciding round, Japan topped Group B of the AFC zone ahead of Australia and Jordan to qualify for the finals in Brazil.
However, Ivory Coast have done only moderately well in the friendly games leading up to the World Cup, drawing against Russia and Belgium either side of a 3-0 victory against Austria. Their preparations for the World Cup culminated into a 2-1 loss to World Cup debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Japan, on the other hand have had a decent build up to the tournament. Since November 2013, they have held the Netherlands to a 2-2 draw and won against Belgium and Cyprus.
Group C also has Greece and Colombia besides the Elephants and the team from the land of the rising sun. The group is extremely well balance and it is difficult to predict who will qualify ahead of whom. While Ivory Coast have done well in recent FIFA tournaments, the same cannot be said of the likes of Colombia and Greece. Japan on the other hand had made the second round at South Africa in 2010 and have a balanced team which has the potential to spring up a surprise.
Ivory Coast, who are coached by Frenchman Sabri Lamouchi boast some of the best players in Africa in the forms of skipper Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, who has been in sublime form this season. Drogba has been plying his trade at Galatasaray in club football after departing Chelsea post their Champions League triumph.
Toure, on the other hand, has been in great form this season as he had a big say in Manchester City’s title win earlier this year. The former Barcelona midfielder banged in 20 goals for the season besides laying on some great chances for his teammates. Wilfried Bony, Chieck Tiote, Serge Aurier, Gervinho, and Salomon Kalou are some of the other well-known names who wear the orange of Ivory Coast.
Japan, managed by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni, have come well in their defence and that could make things interesting here. The likes of Maya Yoshida, Yuto Nagamoto, and Atsuto Uchida have improved massively under his tutelage.
Also, while the team may be termed ‘goal-shy’, there is ample creativity in midfield with Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa the most popular footballers in the country. They have plenty to offer in the middle as they have shown from time to time for club and country. While Honda plies his trade at AC Milan currently, Kagawa plays for English giants Manchester United.
Shinji Okazaki is one of the other names on the Japanese arsenal who has caught the eye with his exploits in front of goal. Skipper Makoto Hasebe sounded optimistic about his nation’s chances in the World Cup this year as he proclaimed that Japan are ready for their opponents.
It’s a tad surprising that despite being favourites to win the game, Ivory Coast are as high as 9/5 for this game as compared to 15/8 for a Japanese victory. Without much to choose between the two, I will be looking at a drawn game here.
Drawn game: 23/10 (bet365)
Correct match score: 1-1 (11/2 at BetFred) or 2-2 (17/1 at BetVictor)
Anytime scorer: Wilfried Bony (40/17 at 888Sport)