Japan and Croatia meet in Nuremburg on Sunday with both teams desperate to record a win following defeats in their opening match.
A second loss would almost certainly man an early exit for either team, while a draw will be welcomed by rivals Brazil and Australia.
Japan were a little unlucky in their oening game against Australia. They looked the better side for much of the game but conceded three late goals in the closing ten minutes.
Coach Zico now has a tough challenge restoring belief into his squad.
“The game against Croatia is decisive now,” Zico said. “We have to get three points, but we also need to deal with the goal difference, too. That third goal (Monday) was hard on us.”
“We know that Croatia are a very strong team and we must win or draw to stay in contention,” the Brazilian legend said on Saturday ahead of their second Group-F match.
“Our strategy is clear against Croatia. We must put out our chances away when we create them,” he said.
“When we lose the ball, we must unite as one in defence. They have skillful players on both sides but we will try to contain them.”
“We have often lost matches when we failed to convert our chances. If this problem is solved, we have no need to be afraid.”
“I have told the team that six points are within our grasp if we strictly follow our style of playing even against formidable opponents.”
Zico intends to boost his midfield by using a four-man defence, which frees up two fullbacks to join the four midfielders. Akira Kaji is expected to be brought in at right back, with playmaker Mitsuo Ogasawara also likely to be included. Yuichi Komano and Keisuke Tsuboi are set to miss out.
“It’s the best measure for a must-win match,” he added.
Croatia will also have been disappointed not to have earned a point from their game against Brazil having matched the World Cup holders for most of the game.
“We were better for most parts of the match,” coach Zlatko Kranjcar said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t exploit our chances and half-chances. If you don’t take your chances against a team like Brazil, they will punish you.”
“If we play at the same level as we did against Brazil, we can beat Japan with no problem.
“My players shall definitely score goals this time.”
Captain Niko Kovac will definitely start despite bruising his ribs in the 1-0 loss to The Brazil.
“He is always important as he always gives 100 percent,” Croatian defender Josip Simunic said. “You saw he left the pitch and four minutes later we let in a goal.”
Ivica Olic, who came on as a substitute in their opener, but suffered aa thigh strain, is fit to face Japan.
Japan: Kawaguchi, Kaji, Miyamoto, Nakazawa, Santos, Ogasawara, Nakata, Fukunishi, Nakamura, Takahara, Yanagisawa.
Croatia: Pletikosa, Simic, Kovac, Simunic, Srna, Tudor, Kovac, Babic, Kranjcar, Klasnic, Prso.
Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium).