Soccer-Japan face daunting odds against rampant Colombia


By Rex Gowar

CUIABA, Brazil, June 22 (Reuters) - The sun could rise again for Japan at the World Cup if they upset Colombia at the Pantanal arena on Tuesday although they will also need the result of the other match on the last day of Group C to go their way.

Colombia have already qualified for the round of 16 with six points after stringing together two wins for the first time in five visits to the finals.

They will be joined in the next round by Ivory Coast, who have three points, if the African nation defeat Greece in other Group C match in Fortaleza.

Japan, who have just one point from their first two matches, can expect to find the going tough in the hot conditions in Cuiaba which will better suit the Colombians, used to playing their home games in the qualifiers at steamy Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast.

They also face a side that iconic 1990s playmaker Carlos "Pibe" Valderrama said had recovered his country's footballing identity under the guidance of coach Jose Pekerman and will be looking for a third win.

"I think these lads are making history...I feel admiration and respect for the professor (Pekerman) with all he has done, he recovered the identity of Colombian football," Valderrama told reporters.

Cristian Zapata, who has fitted into a good central defensive partnership with captain Mario Yepes after Luis Perea failed to make it to Brazil due to injury, said that despite having qualified Colombia were not even thinking about the second round.

"From the start we've gone match by match, the next is against Japan, a difficult match in which we want to improve and also win," Zapata told reporters.


Pekerman's team, like that captained by Valderrama at three finals in the 1990s, espouse a fast paced counter-attacking game with overlapping full backs, an incisive playmaker in James Rodriguez and the scoring instincts of "Teo" Gutierrez.

They have notched five goals, two by Rodriguez, and will be looking for more with Pekerman unlikely to do more than tweak his side.

Midfielder Carlos Sanchez is carrying a yellow card as is Japan's Makoto Hasebe.

Japan have no option but to attack which is the way they play best. The Asians may command plenty of possession, moving the ball swiftly with many interchanges among the front four and full backs Yuto Nagatomo and Aysuto Uchida playing like wingers.

However, the team have failed to click in Brazil after a promising start against the Ivorians when Keisuke Honda scored their only goal so far before losing 2-1. (Additional reporting by Patrick Johnston, Editing by Nigel Hunt)

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