Please, FIFA, no African teams for Japan
December 3, 2009: Hands up all those Japanese fans who would like to be drawn with South Africa at the next World Cup.
Sorry, not me.
I know it sounds attractive being drawn in the same group as South Africa from the eight seeded teams, but a match like that would be a difficult hurdle to overcome.
After all, FIFA desperately wanted the World Cup in Africa – and FIFA will desperately want as many African teams as possible to advance from the first round to build momentum around the continent.
So South Africa v Japan in the first round? Sounds like a Mission Impossible for the boys in blue, with all the advantages the host nation would enjoy. Japan would be playing against more than 11 players; they would be playing against a continent and playing against a football establishment that would like to see only one winner from this contest.
Sorry to be negative, readers, but I don’t think this would be a fair fight with all that’s going on in the world game at the moment, and FIFA’s refusal to even try to clean up the game following the “Hand of Henry” incident.
FIFA will want South Africa to advance, make absolutely no mistake about that, and I would not want to see Japan as the sacrificial lambs.
If I could pick a seeded team for Japan, I would probably go for Italy. That may sound strange, with Italy being the defending champions, but the Italians are notoriously slow starters and always seem to be full of self-doubt before a big tournament.
Furthermore, the Italians are not the kind of team that would attack, attack and keep attacking to inflict as much damage as possible. It is not in their character. Why win 5-0 when 1-0 also earns three points?
This is their mentality on the international stage, and why Japan could feel quite comfortable for long periods in a match like this and even enjoy a lot of possession. I would not rule out a Japan draw against Italy for this reason, whereas a match against attack-minded teams such as Brazil, Spain and the Netherlands could be brutal for Japan’s flimsy defensive structure.
On the eve of the draw, here are my choices for Japan (Pot 2) to have a decent crack at reaching the second round: Italy (Pot 1), Chile (Pot 3) and Slovakia (Pot 4).
But please, no African teams!
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