Japan v Chile: Fading Roja should still have too much for youngsters

Japan v Chile
Tuesday, 00:00
Live on Premier Sports 1

New blood for Samurai Blue

We get our first look at the Copa América’s other special guests on Monday night, when Japan start their Group C campaign against Chile in São Paulo. Japan appeared in this competition back in 1999, yet there was always going to be novelty factor at play here – and Hajime Moriyasu’s squad selection has only underlined that fact.

Like a few other nations, the Samurai Blue are using this as an opportunity to blood young players. But it’s not World Cup qualifiers they have an eye on, but next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, which Moriyasu has long established as a priority. The Olympic football tournament is for players under the age of 23 (plus a few designated oldies), so it’s no surprise that the Japan squad in Brazil is fresh-faced in the extreme.

Shinji Okazaki, Gaku Shibasaki and Eiji Kawashima are no strangers to the international stage, with close to 150 caps between them. But elsewhere this is a squad of ingenues, and thus expectation levels are not overly high. It will, however, be worth keeping an eye on one player in particular: Takefusa Kubo has been labelled the ‘Japanese Messi’ and has just signed for Real Madrid.

Are Chile over the hill?

If Japan are young and hungry, it’s the opposite story for their opponents at the Morumbi. Chile might be reigning champions – twice over, in fact – but there is a sense that they are coming to the end of the line, and that this Copa could bring them back to earth with a bump.

Most of the old guard are still present and correct. Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel, Jean Beausejour and Gonzalo Jara are still knocking around, but the wear and tear of summer after summer of tournament football has started to show: they failed to qualify for Russia and look in desperate need of a renovation.

Coach Reinaldo Rueda has an enviable CV – he has taken three different nations to the World Cup – and some good ideas, but has been frustrated at the local media’s tendency to panic at the first sign of hardship. Throw in a distinct lack of emerging talent to replace the golden generation, and it’s hard to see them completing a Copa hat-trick in Brazil.

Looking at the form book won’t help much as we try to assess Japan’s hopes. Moriyasu used senior players in recent friendlies, and while the U23 squad have enjoyed some impressive results, the opposition (Macao U23s, anyone) won’t be anywhere near the level of Chile.

This, then, looks like the ideal opportunity for La Roja to put the background issues behind them and start with a win. It may prove to be no more than one last night of celebration for what has been a fine team, but it should at least give Rueda’s men a good chance of scraping into the knockout stages, whatever comes next.

Chile are [1.43] shots to start with a victory, which is too short for us. But backing them with a one-goal handicap looks a reasonable option at [1.75] given the vast gulf in experience between the two squads.

Castillo a threat for Chile

Nicolás Castillo is not a household name, but the Club América striker is likely to lead the line for Chile this summer and looks a solid bet to get on the scoresheet here. He has three goals in his last six outings for his country, suggesting he is getting up to speed with international football after a slow start, and can be backed at 7/5 to net on the Sportsbook.

Source: BetFair Tips