Japan v England, International Friendly, May 30, 2010
The Three Lions face their last friendly before the World Cup and crucially the final match prior to Fabio Capello whittling down his England squad from 30 names to 23. Like last weekâ€™s win over Mexico, all eyes will be on Don Fabio to provide some clues as to which players he will be taking to South Africa.
Since returning to Austria following the Wembley win over El Tri, Capello has been training with a 4-4-2 formation. Three Chelsea players, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard will all come in after being rested for last weekâ€™s friendly due to their involvement in the FA Cup final.
The inclusion of Joe Cole has been speculated upon as the midfield playmaker is not certain to start but will be hoping for an impressive cameo off the bench to secure his place on the plane to Africa. David James is expected to start in goal after Rob Green and Joe Hart staked their claims to be England number one against Mexico.
Other players looking to play some minutes and impress are the likes of Stephen Warnock, Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone, Scott Parker and if fit Darren Bent. Capello used 17 of his squad against Mexico and will be eager to see a whole host of players. Most importantly the Italian boss will be keen that England retain possession which was a real problem in the first half against El Tri.
Japan in truth should not pose many problems and like Mexico could also prove suspect from set pieces. The thinking behind this friendly is clear from the Asian side as they are in Group E at the World Cup with two European teams in Holland and Denmark.
Takeshi Okadaâ€™s side struggled in their most recent friendly last week, losing 2-0 to South Korea. Japan failed to put together many chances of note in Saitama and it would be no surprise if they followed their performance in Germany 2006 when they failed to emerge through the group stages. Okada famously said the semi-finals was their aim in South Africa but on recent form this would be a major shock.
Most of the best players in the Samurai Blues squad are creative midfielders. Ex-Celtic playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura and journeyman Junichi Inamoto are the best known to English fans but Keisuke Honda is the player who could emerge in South Africa. The former VVV Venlo midfielder is a free-kick specialist and was a key reason behind CSKA Moscowâ€™s progression to the quarter finals of the Champions League.
Traditionally Japan are weak up front and there is nothing to suggest any of the current crop of strikers will be prolific. Catania forward Takayuki Morimoto is though another youngster who could rise to prominence in the coming weeks and captain Yuji Nakazawa provides immense experience in a defence that will likely concede at least one on Sunday.
Whilst Capello will be looking at how England hold the ball and press Japan high up the pitch, the likely scenario sees the Three Lions win by two goals with both Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney getting on the score sheet in Graz.
101gg predicts: Japan 1 â€“ England 4