Japan and Cameroon will both feel that they have an opportunity to progress from Group E, although with a fixture against a fancied Holland team to come, neither side will want to start their campaign with a defeat in Bloemfontein.
For Japan, this is a fourth successive World Cup since they first qualified for the competition in 1998. To date their success has been mixed, with their only appearance in the knockout stages coming on home soil in 2002
The omens in South Africa are not great, and they arrive at the finals having lost their last four friendly matches.
Confidence is certainly not high back home, where the media are tipping the Japanese to suffer an early, ignominious exit. Coach Takeshi Okada, who has set a semi-final target for his side, has come in for criticism for adopting a dull, defensive style of football. Following the friendly defeat at home to South Korea, the coach offered his resignation, which was declined. Critics have suggested that Okada will fall on his sword sooner rather than later.
The Japan coach has told his players to seek inspiration from the performance of Asian neighbours, South Korea, who coasted to an opening game 2-0 victory over Greece.
“South Korea pressed hard in battling for the ball. I told my players they can do the same,” said Okada.
“It is our turn now. We have an ample chance, too.”
FC Tokyo defender Yuto Nagatomo also watched South Korea’s win over the former European champions.
“It has inspired us a lot,” he said. “We don’t want to be outdone by South Korea. We want to work hard and go one up on South Korea.”
Okada’s only injury concern was Midfielder Makoto Hasebe who has overcome a back injury and looks set to start.
Cameroon have been undermined by controversy in the build-up to this fixture. Skipper Samuel Eto’o has been criticised by former player Roger Milla, who lambasted the Inter striker for failing to produce his club form at international level. Eto’o threatened to walk out on the camp, but has since been persuaded to stay and help Paul Le Guen’s side.
Le Guen is confident his players can eclipse the achievements of the Milla generation.
“We’ve scouted around and brought together many talents…fresh players like (Benoit) Assou-Ekotto, Enoh Eyong, and (Eric) Choupo-Moting have integrated well,” Le Guen told a news conference on the eve of the Cameroon’s departure to South Africa for the World Cup.
“Today I am proud to say I have a team which is efficient, the players are in good condition. I am optimistic we will go far, and why not beyond the quarter-finals?”
Cameroon have been defeated by Serbia and Portugal in recent weeks, while draws with Slovakia and Georgia have hardly engendered confidence.
“What we wanted has been done,” the coach explained. “We trained under good conditions and had four friendly games. The team is better and the team spirit is good because I have succeeded in making the players compete for a place in the first XI of the team.”
Le Guen has a full squad of 23 players to choose from.
Japan (probable): Kawashima; Konno, Nakazawa, Tulio, Nagatomo; Abe, Endo; Honda, Hasebe, Okubo; Okazaki
Cameroon (probable): Souleymanou; Bassong, Mbia, Nkoulou, Assou-Ekotto; Song, Makoun, Enoh; Emana, Eto’o, Webo.
Referee: Olegario Benquerenca (Portugal)