With both sides hoping to keep their knockout stage hopes alive, Japan and Greece will line up for their Group C match Thursday night at Estadio Das Dunas in Natal, Brazil.
Now third on the group table, the Japanese are coming off a heartbreaking 2-1 letdown in their first match, when they led Ivory Coast after 64 minutes only to surrender two goals in quick succession and watch their hopes for first in the group dash away.
Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda scored his country’s only goal, slipping a left-footed strike into the net off Yuto Nagatomo’s assist in the 16 th minute.
Ivory Coast would overwhelm Japan’s backline and keeper Eiji Kawashima, who managed four saves off 10 Elephants shots on goal and a poor possession advantage of 57-43.
Despite the discrepancy Kawashima expressed the utmost faith in his squad’s attack.
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“For four years now we have focused on attack,” Kawashima said to FIFA.com. “We want to keep the ball and move it forward, using all of our qualities and technical ability to score goals. This is how we will play. We will attack.”
The 31-year-old Standard Liege’s faith isn’t misplaced, as Japan totaled 30 goals in the qualifying rounds and could take advantage of a dizzy Greece squad.
Greece was shutout 3-0 against Colombia, and has plenty of ground to make up. Down three goals in the group, Greece and manager Fernando Santos are seeking just their second World Cup victory all-time, having walked away from Johannesburg with one win and never making it out of the group stages in their two previous appearances.
Ethniki were able to squeeze off seven shots on goal and maintain possession 54-46, but failed to generate more opportunities at the top of the attack for forward Theofanis Gekas, who totaled one shot all game. Gekas, 34, is likely playing in his last World Cup and has scored 24 goals in 72 appearances for his country.
Greece’s backline must also return to his qualifying round form, when it let up six goals in 12 matches. The same must be said of keeper Orestis Karneziz, who totaled nine saves in seven starts during qualifying.
Start Time: Thursday, 6 p.m.
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online Stream: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: Japan -1
Over/Under: 4.5 goals, via Bovada.lv
Prediction: Japan 3-1 Greece