World Cup 2014

Japan vs. Greece: 2014 FIFA World Cup | Group C Preview

Japan vs. Greece
2014 FIFA World Cup
June 19 | 6 pm ET | Estádio das Dunas, Natal, Brazil
TV: ESPN, Univision, CBC in Canada

After gut-wrenching losses in their first games, Greece and Japan both desperately need a win in Natal to catch up with Group C leaders Colombia and Ivory Coast.

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HELLAS NO: Greece has built their identity in the last 10 years of international soccer around the impenetrable phalanx of their defense. On Saturday, it took Colombia just 90 minutes to demonstrate the limitations of that strategy en route to a 3-0 shred-job. But without a ton of talent going forward, the Greeks have no choice but to double down on the back line and hope (pray?) that they can get some stops.

SPEED KILLS: Japan might not be quite as dynamic as Colombia going forward, but any offense featuring Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa is not to be trifled with. The Greeks got caught flat-footed in their first game against some quick Colombian attackers, and Japan will be trying to run them down right from the opening whistle to see if their speed can’t duplicate that feat.

ACROPHOBIA: The average height of Samurai Blue’s field players from their Saturday outing against Ivory Coast was about 5-foot-10. No one in Greece’s lineup against Colombia was shorter than 5-foot-10. It’s more than idle speculation to suppose that Japan might be vulnerable in the air. The two goals they conceded both came off crosses into their six-yard box, and there’s no reason to suspect a tall Greek team won’t try the exact same strategy on Thursday.

THE COMEBACK TRAIL: As expected, the race for second place (behind favorites Colombia) is on. Japan and Ivory Coast are the most likely runners-up, and Japan can keep their hopes alive with a win – preferably big – against Greece. Although Greece got dismantled in their first game, the worst is now over for them. If they can snatch a win from Japan on Thursday, then their spot in the knockout stages will likely come down to their last game against Ivory Coast. The World Cup is far from over for these two teams, but Thursday might be the day of destiny.

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THE STAR YOU KNOW

  • Shinji Kagawa, midfielder, Japan -- The Manchester United midfielder hasn’t been quite as dominant this season as he was with Borussia Dortmund, but God help the Greeks if he recovers that form.

THE PLAYER WHO WILL SURPRISE YOU

  • Kostas Mitroglu, forward, Greece -- Mitroglou scored three of Greece’s four goals in their qualifying playoff with Romania, but didn’t play much this year due to injury and didn’t start against Colombia. After an anemic offensive showing, however, Mitroglou will likely be starting at striker on Thursday.