Preview: Colombia v Japan

Having demolished them en route to the 2014 quarterfinals, Colombia will be looking to kick off their campaign this year with a victory over Japan.

2018 FIFA World Cup
19 June 2018
Group H
Kick-off: 20h00 HKT
Venue: Mordovia Arena

Referee: D. Skomina
Assistants: J. Praprotnik, R. Vukan
Fourth official: M. Abid Charef
Fifth official:A. Hmila

Previous encounter:
Japan 1-4 Colombia (2014 World Cup) 24/06/2014

Japan goalscorer: Shinji Okazaki (45+1′)
Colombia goalscorers: Juan Cuadrado (17′ P), Jackson Martinez (55′, 82′), James Rodriguez (89′)

Players to watch:

Colombia boast a star-studded squad featuring the likes of James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado and Radamel Falcao. However, amid all this attacking talent, one would be foolish to forget about Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez.

At just 22 years of age, Sanchez is rapidly rising to stardom. In his first season at Tottenham, he made 31 appearances in the third best Premier League defence.

In the previous season, he scored six Eredivisie goals for Ajax, so Japan ought to be wary of his attacking threat as well as his defensive prowess.

Shinji Kagawa is the biggest name in the Japanese squad, and although he endured a difficult 2017/18 season, he remains a threat.

Kagawa made just 19 Bundesliga appearances for Borussia Dortmund, seven of which came off the bench. However, the former Manchester United star netted in second-half stoppage time against Paraguay in Japan’s most recent game.

Team form and manager quotes:

Japan come into the match as clear underdogs, but after a 4-2 win over Paraguay, they might be quietly confident of success.

However, coach Akira Nishino has publicly talked down his team’s chances of success, claiming that a victory over Colombia would be a “small miracle”.

Japan will be buoyed by the fact that Colombia didn’t have the smoothest of qualifying campaigns. The Cafeteros finished fourth on the CONMEBOL log, scoring just 21 goals in 18 games.

However, Colombia showed glimpses of their best form in a March friendly against France, coming back from 2-0 down to win 3-2. Coach Jose Pekerman praised his side for showing “World Cup attitude” and will be hoping they emulate that performance several times in Russia.

Team news:

Radamel Falcao is expected to lead the line for Colombia, with James Rodriguez likely set to be tasked with providing the creative spark to feed him.

Akira Nishino has named an experienced squad, which may come in handy, as they will need to be on top form a Colombian side which is littered with talent.