Right now, soccer fans across the globe are wondering how their nation will fare at the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. Usually some company finds a psychic animal to “predict” the results: Paul the Octopus for the 2010 World Cup, an Indian elephant for Euro 2012, and this time a panda.
Equally curious about the future, but lacking a clairvoyant creature, we popped in the PlayStation 3 version of the recently released “World Soccer Winning Eleven 2014: Aoki Samurai no Chosen” (“Blue Samurai Challenge”) to see what might happen next week with the Japan national team in particular. The “Winning Eleven” series is known overseas as “Pro Evolution Soccer,” though this particular version is exclusive to Japan.
While “Winning Eleven” doesn’t feature the actual World Cup, due to licensing restrictions, it does have real national team players. That made it possible to run a simulation pitting the computerized Blue Samurai against virtual versions of Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire and Greece, the teams Japan will face in Group C in Brazil.
We used the game’s International Cup mode to group the teams together, set Japan up in the 4-2-3-1 formation manager Alberto Zaccheroni has been utilizing, and let the game control both sides.
First of all, the game’s visuals are mostly top notch, and the Japan player models striking in their detail. Keisuke Honda looks like the real deal, as do the other members of the team and those on rival nations’ squads, though some more than others. Even smaller things such as the particular markings on the uniforms (down to the striping on the socks) and realistic supporter songs are included. Watching the matches unfold, it felt at times like watching a real game on TV.
Japan fans will hope the realism doesn’t stop there. Because if life ends up imitating art, then Shinji Kagawa, Yoichiro Kakitani and Maya Yoshida will play starring roles in leading Japan out of the group stage alongside Cote d’Ivoire.
Those three were the top-rated players during the matches, though it was Honda dropkicking in an extra-time winner against Colombia that sent Japan through at the Colombians’ expense. Kagawa scored once and assisted on five goals in Japan’s virtual group stage, and Kakitani scored three times, twice versus Greece from his spot as the lone striker. There were also two goals against Colombia from Shinji Okazaki, who in real life scored 14 times for German club FSV Mainz 05 this season.
Interestingly, things are also looking up for the real-life Kagawa and Kakitani. The duo have had a rough time at the club level this year, but were both in good form and scored in Japan’s 3-1 friendly win against Costa Rica on Monday.
Having let the game handle the lineups for the simulation, we added some real-world smarts by asking Kyodo News soccer writer Gus Fielding, currently in the U.S. with the Blue Samurai, to provide his ideal lineup for Japan’s game against Cote d’Ivoire so we could test it out.
“Fielding Japan” consisted of Eiji Kawashima in goal; Atsuto Uchida at right-back, Yoshida and Yasuyuki Konno in center and Yuto Nagatomo at left-back; Makoto Hasebe and Hotaru Yamaguchi in defensive midfield; Kagawa on the left wing, Honda in center midfield, Okazaki out right; and Kakitani as the lone striker.
“This team has just the right balance,” Fielding said in an email. “Ivory Coast have strong attackers but they are not good at defending. Nagatomo and Uchida can use their pace on the wings and can see out their game plan if they get the right cover from the center-backs and the holding midfielders.
“Kakitani is also quick and had a good game against Costa Rica as a sub, so (he) has got some confidence back and can be very dangerous if he gets the right service. Ivory Coast are physical and I can see them giving away free kicks, which is where Honda can punish them.”
Fielding’s team conceded to Gervinho on a counterattack and again to Yaya Toure in a 2-0 loss, but bounced back to join the Ivorians as the top two teams.
Any number of things can happen once Japan begins play for real. Though if the Blue Samurai play as well as their PlayStation counterparts, they’ll have more than a fighting chance.
“World Soccer Winning Eleven 2014: Aoki Samurai no Chosen” is out now on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable and 3DS.