COSTA DO SAUIPE, BRAZIL – Japan will play Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire and Greece in a relatively even Group C at next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
Asian champion Japan, which made the round of 16 for the first time on foreign turf in 2010 at South Africa, will be making its fifth consecutive appearance at the finals.
Japan’s first game is against Cote d’Ivoire on June 14 at Recife, followed by Greece on the 19th at Natal and Colombia on 24th at Cuiaba.
“We could have had a tougher draw, and we could have an easier one,” Japan manager Alberto Zaccheroni said. “We’ve got one of the strongest South American teams who are also one of the favorites for the tournament, and probably the best African side in the field.”
“On the other hand, we didn’t draw a big European team so maybe it balances out. But we’re not underestimating Greece by any stretch of the imagination; they played really well against Romania recently.”
Zaccheroni stressed the importance of Japan’s opening game against Cote d’Ivoire, which is coached by one of the Italian’s former players in ex-France midfielder Sabri Lamouchi.
The master, though, still has a few lessons for the student.
“Getting off to a good start is important for sure,” said Zaccheroni “I used to coach the manager of Ivory Coast years ago, and it’s interesting how fate twists itself.
“It will be hot where we will be playing. The Africans are likely to be accustomed to playing in the heat, and we need to be thoroughly prepared.”
Greece coach Fernando Santos appeared to be well aware of Japan’s strength in depth.
“Japan are a very good team, a very strong team. They have four or five players playing in England and Germany and Italy and from now I need to understand this team,” he said.
The opening match between host Brazil, also the Confederations Cup holders, and Croatia in Group A is June 12. Also in the group are Mexico and Cameroon.
Defending champion Spain will face the Netherlands in a rematch of the 2010 final on June 13 in Group B, which also includes Chile and Australia.
The World Cup final is in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.
Group D features South American champions Uruguay, Euro runner-up Italy and England, with Costa Rica filling out the pool.
Looking equally tough is Group G, with Germany, Portugal, the United States and Ghana.
Japan’s Asian rival South Korea was slotted in Group H with Belgium, Algeria and Russia.
Group E includes Switzerland, France, Ecuador and Honduras, and Group F is made up of Argentina, Nigeria, Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina.