The first opponent for the United States in group play will be the Japanese. The US defeated Japan in the 2000 Quarterfinals of this same event, a match which the Japanese still feel hard done by. Peter Vagenas converted a spot kick in stoppage time to send the match to a Golden Goal extra time period where no one scored and the US then won an PKs. Hidestoshi Nakata, a player of greater international stature perhaps than any American has ever had missed the 4th spot kick for Japan in the PK period and Sasha Victorine calmly slotted home the winner for the Americans.
The sting of losing that match has stayed with Japan for eight years and many Japanese football fans were pleased to have been drawn in with the Americans for group play this time around. However, on paper Japan has a weaker team than 2000 and the USA a much stronger team than 2000. Japan’s 2008 squad however did well in Asian Qualifying led by the goal scoring exploits of Tadanari Lee. The midfield is led by Yohei Kajiyawa who plays more or less the number 10 role for the Japanese squad. He’s adept by all accounts at holding the ball and distribution. He can also score the critical goal as he did when Japan beat Qatar 1-0 in qualifying.
Japan plays an open, attacking style and is sure to pressure the American defenders. Against this backdrop the role of the holding midfielder, be it Michael Bradley, Danny Szetela, Dax McCarty or Benny Feilhaber will be critical. The physical nature of Mo Edu and Michael Orozco’s game could also play a decisive role if the US is to get the minimum one point required from this match.
What are everyone’s thoughts on Japan?