Japan - Morocco Preview: Sekizuka's men looking to secure knockout place
Victory for the Asian side at St James' Park will book their place in the final eight, whilst Pim Verbeek's north African side know that they can not afford to lose
By Alex Richards
Noussair, El Kaddouri, El Kaoutari, Jebbour
Labyad, Barrada, Bidaoui
Tokunaga, Hiroki Sakai, Yoshida, Suzuki
Ogihara, Higashi, Yamaguchi
Otsu, Nagai, Kiyotake
Morocco began their campaign with a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Honduras and will have to make a change at the heart of the defence after Zakarya Bergdich's red card in their opener; Montpellier's Abdelhamid El Kaoutari his likely replacement.
That apart, Pim Verbeek is likely to stick with the same side, meaning highly-rated Zakaria Labyad and Soufian Bidaoui on the flanks, with playmaker Abdelaziz Barrada behind former PSV Eindhoven striker Nordin Amrabat.
Japan started with a terrific 1-0 win over pre-tournament favourites Spain, with a wonderful counter-attacking display when they could (and perhaps should) have won by more.
As such, the Hoffenheim attacking midfielder Takashi Usami is likely to have to be content with a place on the bench again, unless goalscorer Yuki Otsu succumbs to the injury he picked up during that match.
Promising Nagoya Grampus Eight striker Kensuke Nagai should keep his place at the centre of Takashi Sekizuka's three-man attack, having been extremely impressive at Hampden Park.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- This is the seventh Olympic tournament that Morocco have entered into, their best showing came at the 1972 Munich Games when they progressed to the second round.
- Only Senegal (one) have less domestic-based players in their squad than Morocco, who have Abdelatif Noussir and Mohamed Abarhoun from their home league
- Abdelaziz Barrada (pictured), scorer of Morocco's opening goal of London 2012, has only one season of professional first-team football under his belt, at the age of 23.
- Neither of these two squads have used their full quota of three Over-23 players. Kharja & Amrabat are Morocco's, Yuhei Tokunaga is Japan's only over-age player
- Japan won the bronze medal at the Olympics in 1968.
- Five of the Japan squad are set to ply their trade in the German Bundesliga next season: Hiroki Sakai (Hannover), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart), Takashi Usami (Hoffenheim), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nurnberg), Yuki Otsu (Borussia Monchengladbach).
- Japan have won all three matches they have played since arriving in Britain two weeks ago: beating Belarus 1-0 and Mexico 2-1 in pre-tournament friendlies, as well as the 1-0 win over Spain.
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Top 3 Predictions
Japan Under 23 2-0 Morocco U-23
- 23.8 %
Japan Under 23 2-1 Morocco U-23
- 12.36 %
Japan Under 23 3-0 Morocco U-23
- 11.67 %
|Olympic Games (OLY)||29 Jul 2012||Japan Under 23 1 - Morocco U-23 0|
|Japan Under 23|
|10 Aug 2012||South Korea Under 23 2 - Japan Under 23 0||OLY|
|7 Aug 2012||Mexico U-23 3 - Japan Under 23 1||OLY|
|4 Aug 2012||Japan Under 23 3 - Egypt U-23 0||OLY|
|1 Aug 2012||Japan Under 23 0 - Honduras Under 23 0||OLY|
|29 Jul 2012||Japan Under 23 1 - Morocco U-23 0||OLY|
|-||Abdelhamid El Kaoutari||Defender|
|12||Omar El Kaddouri||Midfielder|
|17||Soufian El Hassnaoui||Striker|
The young right-back Sakai will be plying his trade in the Bundesliga next season having been transferred from Kashiwa Reysol to last season's Europa League quarter-finalists Hannover 96. The athletic and adventurous defender, quick across the ground and strong in the tackle, is very sharp defensively, but also a threat going forward, as 12 assists in 66 matches for Kashiwa shows.
Centre-forward Amrabat arrived at this summer's tournament having just signed a five -ear contract with Turkish giants Galatasaray. Hindered by growth problems as a youth team player at Ajax, Amrabat, now 25, has developed into a clever forward with solid technique, good vision and sharp movement, which makes him a troublesome opponent for most defences.
Having been buoyed by their win over Spain in their opener, Japan are now in pole position to qualify for the knockout rounds and will be full of confidence. However, Morocco have the talent to cause problems themselves, and will be looking to take all three points knowing that Spain lie in wait in their final match. A draw would favour the Japanese heading into the final round, knowing that Honduras, arguably the group's weakest side, are their opponents.
Live Final scheduled Suspended Cancelled Postponed