Reigning champions Chile will begin the defence of their Copa America title against guest nation Japan at Estadio do Morumbi on Monday night.

The second fixture of the Group C of 2019 Copa America will take place in Sao Paulo on Monday, as current trophy holders Chile will lock horns with guest nation Japan.

Chile head into the competition, with the status of being champions in the last two editions of the Copa America in 2015 and 2016, which was followed by a second-place finish in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. However, La Roja shockingly failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup last year. They will be aiming to banish the disappointment of that failure with another successful defence of their Copa America trophy.

Since September last year, Chile have managed to win just three of their eight matches (D2 L3). While they did win their most recent fixture against Haiti, Reinaldo Rueda’s men had failed to register victories against Mexico and USA earlier in March and will need to turn around their form, if they are to make a solid start to the campaign.

Japan have been invited to the Copa America alongside 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar. This will the Blue Samurai’s second participation in the competition, having first appeared in 1999, when they could not make it past the group stages. Since their World Cup exit in Russia, Japan have been in sensational form, having won 12 of the 16 matches they have played, with their latest game ending in a 2-0 win against El Salvador.

However, they will still be licking their wounds of the disappointing Asian Cup final defeat against Qatar earlier this year and will be aiming to make a mark in the South American tournament, starting with a win against the defending champions.

Team News & Tactics

Japan

Manager Hajime Moriyasu has named a very youthful squad for the tournament, with as many as 16 uncapped players making the trip to South America. There is experience within the roster in the form of Gaku Shibasaki and Shinji Okazaki, while Real Madrid’s latest acquisition Takefusa Kubo is one of the most exciting young talents in the team.

Japan are likely to set out with a three-man backline against Chile, having resorted to the formation in their last two matches. In goal, the experienced Eiji Kawashima is likely to get the nod, with the three-man defence likely to comprise of Takehiro Tomiyasu, Naomichi Ueda and Yuta Nakayama.

Tatsuya Ito, who featured against El Salvador, is likely to get the nod again at right wing-back, with 20-year-old Daiki Sugioka set to occupy the opposite flank. Both the wing-backs will be encouraged to make overlapping runs and combine with the wingers deployed up ahead. Shibasaki and Teruki Hara will sit in the midfield and look to provide control.

The immensely talented Kubo should get the nod on the left side of the attacking trident with Shoya Nakajima likely to slot in on the opposite flank. Spearheading the attack for Japan should be veteran forward Okazaki.

Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Kawashima; Tomiyasu, Ueda, Nakayama; Ito, Shibasaki, Hara, Sugioka; Nakajima, Okazaki, Kubo

Chile

In complete contrast to Japan, the Chile squad is loaded with seasoned campaigners with plenty of experience. The usual suspects like Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel, Mauricio Isla, Eduardo Vargas are all in the squad, as is star man Alexis Sanchez, who had a forgetful campaign for Manchester United and missed the Haiti game with an ankle injury.

Rueda is likely to stick with a four-man defence in front of goalkeeper Gabriel Arias on Monday night, with Isla and Jean Beausejour set to take up the full-back slots on the right and left sides respectively, while Medel will pair up with Alaves defender Guillermo Maripan at the heart of the defence, with Gonzalo Jara set to miss out.

At the base of the midfield for Chile will be 29-year-old Esteban Pavez, who is likely to be partnered by Bayer Leverkusen’s Charles Aranguiz. Arturo Vidal is in line to take up the No. 10 slot for La Roja and will look to create havoc in the final third with his strength and physicality.

Question marks remain over the match fitness of Alexis Sanchez, hence Rueda is likely to hand 34-year-old Jose Pedro Fuenzalida a start on the right flank, with Eduardo Vargas slotting in on the left, although he will be encouraged to drift into central areas. Nicolas Castillo will act as the focal point of the Chile attack against Japan.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Arias; Isla, Medel, Maripan, Beausejour; Aranguiz, Pavez; Fuenzalida, Vidal, Vargas; Castillo

Key Stats

  • Chile and Japan have met just twice previously. The South American giants have failed to register a win in either of those encounters, with one ending in a draw, while Japan triumphed in the other.
  • The last meeting between these two nations was ten years ago in May 2009, in which Japan thrashed Chile 4-0.
  • Chile’s form leading up to the Copa America has been dodgy. La Roja have won just one of their last three matches (D1 L1), scoring four goals, while letting in five.
  • Japan had gone unbeaten in the Asian Cup till the final defeat to Qatar. Post that, the Blue Samurai have lost just one of their four games (W2 D1), keeping three clean sheets and conceding just one goal.
  • Alexis Sanchez is the most-capped Chile player with 124 appearances. The Manchester United forward is also the leading goalscorer for the South American nation, having netted 41 goals till date.

Player to Watch

Takefusa Kubo

Japanese Messi - Takefusa Kubo (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)

Japanese Messi – Takefusa Kubo (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)

Dubbed as the ‘Japanese Messi’, 18-year-old Takefusa Kubo has turned quite a few heads in his fledgling career till date and will get a chance to announce himself on the big stage in the Copa America. A former member of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, the forward left Spain to return to Japan in 2015 and has since grown at a rapid rate, leading to Real Madrid capturing him this summer.

Prior to his switch to Madrid, Kubo had scored 5 goals and set up 4 more in 16 matches across all competitions for FC Tokyo, helping them to the top position in the J-League. The teenage wonderkid can play in anywhere in the final third of the pitch and has the ability to dribble past defenders at speed with utmost ease. All eyes will be on the 18-year-old when he takes the field in Brazil.

Prediction

Japan 0-1 Chile

The two teams on show on Monday night are as different as chalk and cheese. While Japan have opted to hand a chance to a large number of uncapped young players, Chile are loaded with experienced players across all areas of the pitch, with the spine of the squad that won the last two Copa America trophies still very much intact.

There is plenty of talent in this Japanese squad no doubt and they have been in better form heading into the game as well, but Chile’s experience of competing at the highest level should give them the edge going into the game. It is likely to be a keenly contested battle in Sao Paulo, but we at The Hard Tackle are expecting La Roja to come out on top against a youthful Japanese side.

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