Alberto Zaccheroni blamed slow play for Japan’s failure to beat ten-man Greece in their second match and the goalless draw left them with only one point and one goal from their first two games. Only a win will be good enough now for them to qualify, and even then it depends on Ivory Coast failing to beat Greece as well as goal difference and goals scored. With nothing to lose, Zaccheroni may revert to his attacking principles and let loose Shinji Kagawa in the starting line-up, with Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda (scoring of their only goal so far) pushed further forward.
Having been head and shoulders above the rest of Group C, Colombia have qualified for the knockout stage but need another point to be sure of top spot, although they will be group winners whatever their result if Ivory Coast fail to beat Greece. Coach Jose Pekerman had the same starting line-up in the first two matches, but it would be no surprise if he made three or four changes here. An obvious omission is holding midfielder Carlos Sanchez, who is on a yellow card.
Colombia look attractive at +144, but there are two factors to bear in mind: they don’t need to win and this may well be a very different side from the one that was so impressive in victory over Greece and Ivory Coast. Even so, playing in conditions that suit them so well and with plenty of support behind them, a slightly second-string Colombia could still keep their 100% record intact and those odds appear too good to turn down. Any player who is brought in by Pekerman will be keen to stake a claim for a regular place and the winning habit can be hard to break – the record of top-ranked teams (as Colombia are) going for a third victory in these circumstances is extremely good. Japan have shown flashes of their skills but Honda’s goal in the 16th minute of their opening game against Ivory Coast was not a sign of things to come – 164 goalless minutes have followed and their inability to break down Greece’s 10 men does not bode well against Colombia, who had the best defence in South American qualifying and have looked just as solid in Brazil.
Japan have to go for goals – perhaps only one if they’re lucky, but in all probability they will need a high-scoring win to sneak into the knockout stage of the competition. No doubt they have the quality to score against high-quality opposition (three goals against Italy and one against Mexico in last year’s Confederations Cup) but an attacking approach will leave them open at the back and it is worth noting they conceded nine goals in three games in the Confederations Cup. That combination of factors largely explains why Japan have had 12 out of 16 over 2.5 goals (75%) in the past 12 months. Both of Colombia’s games so far have had over 2.5 goals – taking their record to seven out of 11 over 2.5 goals when they have scored in a competitive international under Pekerman. With Japan unlikely to keep a clean sheet if they pour forward, over 2.5 looks the pick at +106.
-2.1 units (6-8)