Japan will be hoping to return to winning ways when they host Colombia at the Nissan Stadium in Kanagawa in their Kirin Challenge Cup opener.

Japan and Colombia seem to be becoming familiar foes, having competed in back-to-back World Cup editions. The two powerhouses of their respective confederations could also potentially lock horns at this year’s Copa America. But, before that, they will meet in Kanagawa in the Kirin Challenge Cup on Friday.

Japan have already been in action this year, albeit in the middle of club footballing schedule. The Blue Samurai featured in the AFC Asian Cup, where they were one of the favourites. Hajime Moriyasu’s men did reach the final as expected, but were handed a shock 3-1 defeat by Qatar at the last hurdle.

The Kirin Challenge Cup now gives them the chance to get their preparations in order ahead of the Copa America this summer. Preparation for the CONMEBOL-hosted tournament will also be on the mind of Carlos Queiroz, who takes charge of Colombia for the first time, having been appointed as the head coach last month.

Los Cafeteros have moved on well from their disappointing 2018 FIFA World Cup, and are yet to be beaten in their four matches since then. Against Japan, however, Colombia will be aiming to avenge their 2-1 loss at last year’s World Cup and ahead of the meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Japan

Can Hajime Moriyasu get his side focused after the shock loss in the AFC Asian Cup final? (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

Can Hajime Moriyasu get his side focused after the shock loss in the AFC Asian Cup final? (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

Hajime Moriyasu has made a raft of changes to the squad that was selected for the AFC Asian Cup, with a number of players being recalled for the first time since the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Additionally, the Japan boss has also handed first-time call-ups to several players.

As many as 14 players have dropped out of the original squad that was originally picked for the AFC Asian Cup, meaning Moriyasu now has a big job of bringing the group at his disposal to a stable footing. The big news though, is the return of Shinji Kagawa as well as the axing of Yuya Osako.

The Japan head coach has usually flitted between the 4-4-2 and the 4-2-3-1 as the formation of his choice, but the return of Kagawa should see the latter being preferred, with the Besiktas playmaker being deployed in the hole.

The emphasis in the latest team selection seems to be on having a young core, and with that in mind, Moriyasu should hand a couple of debuts on Friday, most notably to Koki Anzai on the left side of the defence. The rest of the Japanese backline should be manned by Gen Shoji, Genta Miura and Sho Sasaki, with Kosuke Nakamura being the goalkeeper.

In the middle of the park, the onus will be on Hotaru Yamaguchi to keep a lid on James Rodriguez’s output, while Gaku Shibasaki will be the workhorse in the double pivot who will also aim to recycle possession at pace, effectively. Out wide, Takashi Usami and Ritsu Doan will be tasked with providing a pacy outlet, with Takumi Minamino likely to lead the line for the hosts.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Nakamura; Sasaki, Miura, Shoji, Anzai; Shibasaki, Yamaguchi; Doan, Kagawa, Usami; Minamino

Japan

Colombia

In his first squad announcement since being appointed as the Colombia head coach, Carlos Queiroz has chosen to stick with the usual suspects for the most part, while also naming a few exciting youngsters who will hope to impress the former Iran boss.

Queiroz though, has not shied away from taking some tough calls, with as many as eight players being dropped from the last iteration. There is some bad news as well, with the likes of David Ospina, Santiago Arias, Juan Cuadrado and Juan Fernando Quintero all sidelined with injuries.

Quintero had been one of the stars for Colombia at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but his absence might just be a short-term blessing, as it gives the head coach a chance to give some youngsters a chance. The 4-1-4-1 and the 4-2-3-1 were the two preferred formations for Queiroz in his last leg in-charge of Iran, and the visitors should go for a similar system as Japan.

With Quintero sidelined, Rodriguez should slot in as the central attacking midfielder instead of playing out on the left flank. The two wide slots ought to be manned by the exciting duo of Sebastian Villa and Luis Diaz, although Yimmi Chara is also an option.

Captain Radamel Falcao should lead the line for Colombia, with Alfredo Morelos, who has been hailed as the future of Colombian football, being the backup option. In midfield, there is no looking past Wilmar Barrios and Mateus Uribe, with Jefferson Lerma also being an alternative.

At the back, the young duo of Davinson Sanchez and Yerry Mina should comprise the central defensive partnership, while Helibelton Palacios will deputize for Arias. Another key decision will be about who fills Ospina’s void, with the likeliest candidate being Camilo Vargas.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Vargas; Palacios, Sanchez, Mina, Borja; Uribe, Barrios; Villa, James Rodriguez, Diaz; Falcao

Colombia

Key Stats

  • Colombia narrowly edge the head-to-head record between them and Japan, having won two of the four meetings between the two national sides (D1 L1).
  • The solitary loss came at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which also made Japan the first ever Asian side to defeat South American opposition at the World Cup.
  • Colombia, unbeaten since their ouster from the World Cup (W3 D1), will be playing for the first time under the tutelage of Carlos Queiroz.
  • Japan have only been beaten once under Hajime Moriyasu, with the solitary defeat unfortunately coming in the AFC Asian Cup final (W10 D1).

Player to Watch

James Rodriguez

Colombia's key man. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Colombia’s key man. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

2018 was an underwhelming year for Colombia, who did not enjoy the best of campaigns at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and were booted out at the Round of 16. But, with the Copa America set to be played in the summer, Los Cafeteros now have the chance to be regarded among the best national sides in the world once again.

In order to do so, they need their talisman James Rodriguez in the best of forms. At club level, there are a lot of uncertainties for the playmaker, with no clarity as to whether he will remain at Bayern Munich or return to Real Madrid.

But, he seems to be returning to top form, having netted a hat-trick against FSV Mainz 05 last weekend. Should he continue that form against Japan, Colombia will likely be on course for another win over their hosts.

Prediction

Japan 1-2 Colombia

A rematch of the group stage encounter between the two sides, and with revenge on the minds of the Colombian players, an enticing fixture is on the cards. Japan have shown great maturity under Hajime Moriyasu, having already notched up 10 wins in the short time that he has been in-charge of the national side.

But, with a lot of shuffles being made to his most recent squad, stability might be an issue. As far as the visitors are concerned, the players are likely to be motivated to put their best foot forward to impress the new head coach, seeing as they will only get two games to cement their place in the Copa America squad.

All things considered, the scales seem to be slightly tipped in Colombia’s favour, although it goes without saying that the two sides ought to be evenly matched for the most part. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for the visitors, giving Carlos Queiroz his maiden win in his very first game in-charge.

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