Relishing a much easier group stage than the last two World Cups, Ivory Coast face Japan in Group C play Sunday night at Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil.
In what is expected to be the last World Cup appearances for compatriots Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, the Ivory Coast hopes to escape the group stage after claiming only two victories in their last two appearances combined.
Les Elephants will also send out high-profile wingers Gervinho and Salomon Kalou, who together own 37 international goals.
Meanwhile, Japan is hoping the expert passing and scoring from the likes of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki, as well as Shinji Kagawa, will carry them to a third appearance in the knockout stage in the last four World Cups.
Okazaki has been especially lethal this year, totaling 15 goals in 35 appearances for Bundesliga’s Mainz. He’s also netted 38 goals in 76 senior team appearances for Japan.
"Our will to survive the World Cup group phase is huge and the fans expect that of us," said Okazaki to FIFA.com after learning of Japan’s group placement. "We have the chance to get out of the last 16 for the first time. Many of our players are active abroad, some at top clubs, so the expectations in Japan have grown."
The winner of Group C is expected to come out of this match, with Greece and Columbia both owning solid squads but not immediate threats to the more experienced and talented XI from Ivory Coast and Japan.
Japan owns the all-time record at 2-1, including a 2-0 friendly victory back in 2010. But that seems a lifetime ago, and Ivory Coast is a different club having scored 15 goals during qualifying and should prove very dangerous in air attacks and set pieces.
Start Time: Saturday, 9 p.m. EST
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream Info: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: There are several lines, with Ivory Coast favored -0.5 or -1, or Japan -0.5.
Over/Under: The total number of goals ranges from 1.5 to 4.5 via Bovada.lv.
Prediction: Ivory Coast over Japan, 2-1