By Brian Homewood and Nick Mulvenney
After losing their Group C openers, Japan and Greece will be looking to rediscover the qualities which got them to Brazil as they bid to keep their campaigns alive at the Dunas arena on Thursday.
There is little doubt that only three points will do if either side is to extend their stay in Brazil beyond the group stage.
Japan’s attacking flair helped them become the first country to qualify for Brazil but they paid the price for uncharacteristic timidity after taking an early lead in their opening 2-1 loss to Ivory Coast in Recife.
Abandoning the fast, intricate inter-passing that gave them the lead through Keisuke Honda after 16 minutes, they sat back in defence and were ultimately bullied out of the contest by the powerful Ivorians.
“Possession, that is our strength,” striker Honda said this week.
Former European champions Greece conceded four goals in ten qualifying matches for Brazil but almost as many in their first match of the tournament, a 3-0 defeat to Colombia in Belo Horizonte.
They came to the World Cup promising a more adventurous style and, considering themselves unlucky to have gone down by such a margin to the Colombians, will not be abandoning it.
“Everyone expected we would have 11 men behind the ball, defend, defend, defend and give everything to keep a clean sheet,” said experienced striker Giorgios Samaras.
“But I think what they saw was a team that likes to attack, that moves the ball really well, and that tries always to create chances.
“We went out to win against Colombia, and that philosophy will not change. We just hope it brings a better result for us because Japan is now a must, must-win game for us.”
That may be, but Portuguese coach Fernando Santos will certainly be hoping for an end to concentration lapses at the back that cost the team so dear in Belo Horizonte.
Tricky winger Giannis Fetfatzidis’s better ball retention might get him the nod ahead of forward Dimitris Salpingidis, while Fanis Gekas could make way for Kostas Mitroglou up front despite hitting the bar against Colombia.
‘Mitrogoal’ is Greece’s most expensive export and although a knee injury disrupted his preparations for the tournament, the time for caution is over.
Elsewhere in Group C, few teams have flattered to deceive over the years as much as Colombia and Ivory Coast who meet for the first time on Thursday in a battle of perennial World Cup underachievers.
Colombia have been exasperating their followers ever since 1993 when a stunning 5-0 World Cup qualifying win away to Argentina was announced as heralding a golden era which never materialised.
Ivory Coast have been blessed with a golden generation which, for all its undoubted talent, has repeatedly failed to deliver the expected riches and has become a regular visitor to last chance saloon in the last three years.
Both teams, however, have started the tournament with impressive wins, finally giving supporters hope that this time they can deliver on their exciting potential.
For more than 20 years since their historic win at the River Plate stadium, Colombia, now led by former Argentina coach Jose Pekerman, have been falling short of expectations.
They arrived at the 1994 World Cup among the favourites and were expected to expect the tournament alight with their slick, passing football.
But their campaign ended in failure and tragedy, with first round elimination followed by the shocking murder of defender Andres Escobar in Medellin shortly after they returned home.
Colombia were again eliminated in the first round in 1998 and failed to qualify at all for the following three tournaments when they replaced their open attacking style with an excessively defensively one. They did, however, win the Copa America which they hosted in 2001.
Ivory Coast’s 2-1 win over Japan has given hope that they can finally get to the last sixteen for the first time.
Led by Didier Drogba, now 36, their current generation of players has failed to get past the group stage at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and has seen a series of frustrating exits in the African Nations Cup.
They reached the final in 2012 only to lose to Zambia on penalties and, in what was regarded as absolutely their final chance, lost to Nigeria in the quarter-finals in 2013.
Both teams are stronger going forward than at the back and the match looks set to continue the run of open, entertaining games which have lit up the tournament.
Colombia have a wealth of attacking riches, led by midfielder James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado on the wing, so much so that they have made light of the absence of injured Radamel Falcao.
Ivory Coast played most of the second half against Japan with a four-pronged frontline to overcome their frailties as they came from behind to win 2-1.