14:05 BST, Tuesday 12th June, Tivoli-Neu (Innsbruck, Austria)
After finishing seventh of the ten team’s fighting for qualification from the CONMEBOL group, Paraguay are a team in need of a new lease of life.
Victories over Argentina and Columbia along with a draw against Brazil couldn’t mask what was a campaign greatly lacking in attacking threat.
Despite their deficiencies, Paraguay only failed to qualify through defeat in their final qualification fixture and will prove a tough opponent on Tuesday afternoon.
Japan (33) are currently ranked ten places below Paraguay (43) in FIFA’s rankings, partly because of their poor recent form.
With only three wins (D2, L5) from their previous ten matches, Japan have been struggling for some time now.
Seeking a solution through new manager Akira Nishino, his 100% record of 2 successive losses is not the answer the JFA were hoping to find.
In what is now the final stage of their World Cup preparations, a victory in this match could go a long way to helping the Blue Samurai become a force in world football once more.
Last Time Out
USA 1-0 Paraguay (Premier League)
Paraguay fell to a late defeat in North Carolina against an experimental United States side featuring three debutantes.
With an average age of only 24, the USA side put in a determined display and proved a tough opponent for the visitors.
Restricted to playing on the break, Paraguay were lively but also effectively toothless in their attacks. Their best chance of the first half came through a free-kick, headed straight at the keeper when perhaps he should have done better.
The winning goal came from a dubious penalty won just before the interval. A fast break from the USA was ended by Paraguay’s keeper, Roberto Hernandez, seemingly tripping the attacker. However, replays proved to be far from conclusive.
What proved much more clear-cut was the foul by Rodrigo Rojas ten minutes after the restart. The Paraguay defender dived studs-first into a challenge on Marky Delgado but was lucky to only receive a yellow card.
Beyond a 75th-minute header from Hernan Perez, Paraguay offered little in the closing stages and fell to a deserving defeat away from home.
Switzerland 2-0 Japan (Premier League)
Japan’s hopes of a new start took another setback as Nishino’s side were again beaten by a 2-0 scoreline.
Using a different formation and switching to a back-four, Japan had less possession than they did in their previous match against Ghana, however, they did look more comfortable on the ball.
Where they were found lacking though, was in attack. The Swiss defence was rarely troubled in the face of an unimaginative forward line from Nishino’s men. What further compounded their misery was their defence was still not fully synchronised.
The opening goal came through a mistake as Switzerland poured forward, Maya Yoshida conceding a penalty in the 42nd minute which was ably dispatched by Ricardo Rodriguez.
Haris Seferovic doubled their advantage inside the last 10 minutes to seal what proved a comfortable victory.
With time running out before Japan’s opening game against Columbia, there looks to be plenty of improvements which still need to be made by the Blue Samurai.
Dynamo Kiev forward Derlis Gonzalez has a knee injury and is unlikely to feature which could see Alejandro Romero Gamarra (Kaku) of New York Red Bulls make his debut and play on the left wing.
FC Copenhagen’s Federico Santander is expected to play as the main striker, while Justo Villar will return in goal ahead of Antony Silva who has been playing there recently.
After moving from a 3-4-2-1 formation in his first game in charge to a 4-2-3-1 system against Switzerland, Akira Nishino is expected to retain a back-four for this match.
With goals in short supply for the Blue Samurai in recent matches, a return to the starting lineup for Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki could be one of few changes made for this friendly.
Key Battle: Miguel Almiron (Paraguay) vs Ryota Oshima (Japan)
Paraguay’s main creative player is the central midfielder who plays for Atlanta United in the MLS.
Almiron has scored six goals and made seven assists from his 15 appearances in the current season. However, he is yet to score for the national side during any of his 13 caps for his country.
With Paraguay now looking to rebuild their team for the years ahead, building a team around Almiron appears to be the obvious choice and he will be looking to open his goals account sooner rather than later which could be bad news for Japan.
One of the two holding midfielders in Japan’s team, Ryota Oshima who plays for Kawasaki Frontale is one of the newest faces to make his way into the squad.
Unlike Japan’s captain, Makoto Hasebe, who plays alongside him, Oshima is much more comfortable in possession of the ball.
With Japan showing a deficiency in attack, Oshima’s ability to carry the ball up the pitch is something which is greatly needed at present and perhaps the main reason he has been introduced into the World Cup squad.
Having disappointed in World Cup qualification, Paraguay are now going through a rebuilding process. In preparation for future competitions such as the Copa America tournament in 2019, they are currently trying to add a wave of youth and vigour into their squad.
One of the results of this transition is the international retirement of goalkeeper Justo Villar. The 40-year-old has represented Paraguay for 19 years and through three World Cup campaigns but this match against Japan will be his 120th and final cap for the national team.
As the Paraguay captain, he received a round of applause from the reporters present at the press conference for this game and can expect a much bigger send-off on Tuesday afternoon (BST).
Whether he can close off his career with a clean sheet and a win remains to be seen, however, the Paraguay players on the pitch will be determined to provide him a fitting farewell with a positive result against Japan.
Searching for answers
When Akira Nishino was named as the new manager of Japan, many people expected the return of the national team’s old standards.
Part of this was proven with the inclusion of elder statesmen in the team, Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda, three players who had slowly been phased out of the squad.
But while their names were included in the 23-man squad which will travel to Russia this summer, it is the younger players who have been providing much of the hope. In the two friendly matches which have already been played under Nishino, only Honda has started for the team out of these three players.
While it seems that Japan are very much still looking for a system and starting lineup which can best represent their country this summer, the team may have a more forward-looking dynamic than many expected of them two weeks ago.
Prediction: Paraguay 0-0 Japan
These two countries have met on 11 previous occasions, five of which have ended in a draw (Paraguay won two, Japan won three).
Both sides have had problems defensively for some time now but a lack of goals could mean clean sheets come easier from this fixture.
Without a win no in five games, this run looks likely to be extended for Japan which will not be the kind of form they were hoping to take with them to Russia.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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