Colombia V Japan Tuesday 19 June 13:00 Live on BBC One
Pékerman's World Cup pedigree set to be enhanced
Having managed Argentina in 2006 and Colombia in 2014, this is José Pékerman's third World Cup in charge and, excluding shoot-outs, he's lost just one of ten matches. He's overseen seven victories and two draws. Expect the Colombians to be well-organised and hard to beat.
Spearheaded by emerging superstar, James Rodriguez, who finished the competition as the top goal scorer with six, Colombia were one of the surprise packages in Brazil four years ago, despite the absence of their star striker, Radamel Falcao, who missed the tournament through injury. They comfortably topped their group, winning all three matches, including a 4-1 defeat of Japan in their final group game, before a James brace saw them ease past Uruguay in to the quarterfinals where they lost narrowly to the hosts 2-1.
Qualification wasn't straightforward this time around and after a 2-1 defeat at home to Paraguay they needed a draw with Peru in their final game to make the finals but they did what they needed to do. They failed to beat Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay but they won most of the games they were expected to win and as favourites to win Group H, that mentality might bode well here against the Group H outsiders, Japan.
New man Nishino unlikely to do the trick
Poor form and a last-ditch change of managers in April, from Vahid Halilhodžić, to Akira Nishino, can't possibly be viewed as ideal preparation for the Samurai Blue's sixth straight World Cup finals appearance and in a tight group, they're the clear favourites to finish Rock Bottom.
A pair of 2-0 friendly defeats, to Ghana and Switzerland, suggested the managerial switch may have been futile but they do at least arrive in Russia with some cheer following a 4-2 defeat of Paraguay on June 12.
Nishino has brought both Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa back in from the cold and the latter rewarded the new manager's faith with two assists and a goal against the Paraguayans. We can't get too exited about that result though - Japan may have scored four times, but they only actually had three shots on target! The third goal was a Federico Santander own goal.
Colombia fancied but value looks to be elsewhere
The Colombians have been firm favourites to win Group H since the market opened and the Japanese have been the outsiders from day one, so it's no surprise to see Los Cafeteros odds-on favourites to get off to a winning start but at around the 1.70 mark, they make very little appeal.
Despite their recent success against Paraguay, it's very hard to make a case for Japan. They've failed to win a match in three of their five previous World Cup Finals appearances and outside of Japan (they co-hosted alongside South Korea in 2002), they've won just twice, drawn three and lost eight.
If absolutely forced to pick a value outcome in the win market, I'd plump for the draw at around the 3.80 mark but my monies gone elsewhere.
Goals in short supply but Colombia should just edge it
The Colombians were far from prolific in qualifying, netting just 21 times in 18 games and after a 3-2 win over France, their World Cup warm-ups have been a pair of 0-0 draws, against Australia and Egypt. They're far and away the most likely winners here but I'm far from convinced we'll see many goals. Colombia don't find the net often and as poor as the Samurai Blue appear on paper, they do have an experienced side and I'll be surprised if they get beaten heavily by any team.
Under is definitely the play in the Over-Under 2 ½ Goals market but at around the same price as Colombia are to win the match, that too looks correctly priced an unappealing.
I fancy Colombia to take all three points but a cagey start could be on the cards, with goals slow to arrive, so I'm happy to take a chance on Draw-Colombia at 10/3.
Same Game Multi
The brand new Same Game Multi feature on the Sportsbook is well worth checking out whatever you fancy. Click on the tab at the top of the market and pick two or more selections to build your wager. My personal favourite for this game is Colombia to win, Under 2.5 Goals and the draw at half time at 11/2 but I'm also tempted by Colombia to win, Under 2.5 Goals and James Rodriguez to score anytime at around 9.5/1.
Key Opta Stats for Colombia v Japan
Colombia are unbeaten against Japan (W2 D1). Their only previous World Cup encounter produced a 4-1 win for Colombia in June 2014; it was also Japan’s last game in the tournament. Colombia are1.72 to win.
Japan are winless against South American sides at the World Cup (D1 L3). The draw is3.85.
Colombia won four games in their last World Cup (2014), more than in their previous four appearances combined (3 wins in 13 games). 2014 is also the only time they have topped their group in the tournament. Colombia are the2.40 favourites to win Group H.
None of Colombia’s 18 games at the World Cup have ended goalless. In fact, only the USA (33) and Austria (29) have played more games in the competition without ever registering a 0-0. Over 2.5 goals is2.36.
Japan have qualified for the World Cup for the sixth time, reaching every edition of the tournament since 1998 and alternating between getting knocked out in the group stages (1998, 2006, 2014) and in the round of 16 (2002, 2010). The Japanese are3.50 to qualify for the knockout stage.
Japan have won only two of their last 11 World Cup games (D3 L6), against Cameroon and Denmark in June 2010. The draw half-time/Colombia full-time double result is4.60.
Top scorer for Colombia in the 2018 qualifiers and all-time at the World Cup, James Rodríguez has been directly involved in eight of his team’s last 10 goals at the finals (6 goals, 2 assists). Rodriguez is3.10 to score.
Keisuke Honda has been directly involved in five of Japan’s six goals over the last two World Cups (3 goals, 2 assists). Honda is4.20 to find the net.
This is José Pekerman’s third World Cup as manager, reaching the quarter-finals in each of his previous two: with Argentina in 2006 and Colombia in 2014. Pekerman has only lost one of his 10 games in the tournament, shoot-outs excluded (W7 D2), it was against Brazil in the 2014 quarter-finals (1-2). Colombia are3.15 to reach the last eight.
Japan sacked Vahid Halilhodzic in April, just over two months before this World Cup finals. His replacement, Akira Nishino took charge of Japan at the 1996 Summer Olympics and failed to get them out of the group stages. Japan are2.18 to finish rock bottom of Group H.