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Old June 13, 2010, 11:39 PM
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al-Sagar al-Sagar is offline
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Default JAPAN vs CAMEROON preview

Blue Samurai must sharpen up to slay Lions

Playing in their fourth successive World Cup, Japan have managed consistent qualification but have yet to assert themselves on the international stage. The Blue Samurai face an uphill task to progress from Group E, if their recent form is anything to go by.

In 2010, Takeshi Okada's side have faltered every time they have played a nation possessing any quality. Defeats to rivals South Korea (twice), Serbia, England and Ivory Coast have yielded just one goal and Okada has somehow earned a Raymond Domenech-style finals reprieve despite being lambasted by fans and press alike in Japan. And one must certainly question the logic of the Japanese FA in putting their World Cup hopes in the hands of a coach who lost all three matches when he last guided the national side to the finals in 1998.

Japan's opponents in the opening game of Group E will be Africa's most successful World Cup nation, Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions reached the quarter-finals in 1990 - led by the scoring exploits and snaking hips of Roger Milla - and will be playing in an African-record sixth finals.

Despite being a national treasure, Milla risked wrecking Cameroon's build-up to the finals after criticising star striker Samuel Eto'o for failing to display his world-class club credentials for the national side. Eto'o did not take too kindly to Milla's comments and threatened to pull out of Paul Le Guen's World Cup squad, though fortunately for the Indomitable Lions, he changed his mind.

In Eto'o, Cameroon have an obvious match-winner and can also boast a physically imposing and athletic midfield in Achilles Emana, Alex Song and Jean Makoun. But make no mistake, their midfielder also possess plenty of guile to trouble a Japan side lacking real steel in the middle of the park.

Japan player in focus: Keisuke Honda. Undoubtedly one of the most naturally gifted players at Okada's disposal, Honda has flourished since moving from Dutch club VVV Venlo to CSKA Moscow in January. He netted the Russian club's winner against Sevilla in the Champions League and has the ability to unlock defences with a dribble or an incisive through ball.

Cameroon player in focus: Samuel Eto'o .
Quite simply, he is the Indomitable Lions talisman. As his country's captain and leading goalscorer, the hopes of a nation rest on the Inter Milan striker's shoulders. Eto'o made one substitute appearance at the 1998 World Cup, but four years later was Cameroon's match-winner against Saudi Arabia. Having missed out on playing at the 2006 finals, he will be desperate to prove that he is capable of carrying the team forward on the biggest stage of them all.

Key battle: Tulio Tanaka v Pierre Webo. Tanaka is comfortable on the ball, and has impressive anticipation when marking his men, with Wayne Rooney's failure to score in a recent friendly testament to his abilities. In Webo, he has a tough opponent - a strong, fearsome frontman who is full of running and provides the perfect foil for Eto'o. The Mallorca striker is an excellent form going into the tournament having scored three goals in the final two warm-up games.

Trivia: None of Cameroon's 23-man squad play in the country's national league. Seven players ply their trade in France, four in Germany, three in Turkey, England and Spain, and one each in the Netherlands, Scotland and Italy.

Stats: Japan have never won a World Cup game outside of their country, losing five of their six games on foreign soil.

Odds: Japan (3.60), the draw (3.30), Cameroon (2.10) with Bet365. Samuel Eto'o for first goalscorer is priced at 5.00 and might be worth a punt.

Prediction: Both of these sides have flattered to deceive of late, and their poor recent results would suggest a draw is on the cards. But there will be one truly world class player on the pitch who can make all the difference, and Samuel Eto'o may just give Cameroon the edge.
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