Preview: Japan v Palestine (2015 AFC Asian Cup)

Shinji Okazaki: One of the Bundesliga's top scorers

Game Information:
What: Asian Cup Group Stage
When: 12/01/2015
Where: Newcastle, Australia
Kickoff: 0700 GMT
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Previous Encounters: None

Japan Form: WWLWW
Palestine Form: WWLWD



Holders v. Debutants
Palestine could not dream of a more marquee matchup to ring in their debut on Asia's biggest stage. Since debuting in 1988, Japan has gone on to win the Cup four out of the next six editions. Their current crop of players are so good that their are established Bundesliga players who got nowhere near Javier Aguirre's final squad.

That said, for all their talent Japan seem to still be searching for the missing piece to make them a truly elite world power. They floundered at the World Cup- picking up 1 point against 10-man Greece and collapsing against Cote d'Ivoire after dominating the first half.
Japan hired Aguirre in the hopes that the wily Mexican could provide the talented Blue Samurai with added grit. Turns out though that the former Mexican national team boss might be a bit too wily; he's currently being investigated for match fixing in Spain.
Under new management Japan have been all that different. Their squad's core players have been retained and their results- losses against South American powers (highlighted by a 4-0 rout at the hands of Brazil) have been coupled with a 2-1 win over the Socceroos and a 6-0 blowout of Honduras.

Japan will continue the tradition of opening up against a West Asian opponent and although they have never lost an opener they only picked up 1 point against Jordan and Qatar in the last two tourneys. In fact, Japan tend to start slow in this competition with their only multi-goal win being the seismic destruction of Saudi Arabia in Lebanon (4-1).

With so many players joining the squad late as a result of European club duty Japan might need a couple of match days to fire on all cylinders. Palestine will be hoping as much.

Palestine Ready despite setbacks
The last thing Palestine needed was to lose their two most in-form defenders ahead of the biggest game in their history. If the absences of Daniel Kabir Mustafá and Javier Cohene wasn't enough; Alexis is in a race against time to get fit. Also, did we mention that Haitham Dheeb's Ferris Beuler scheme has been busted by the Principal of the school he works at?
Lack of defensive cover is an issue and Palestine will be hoping yellow cards aren't dished out to the likes of Harbi and Bahdari.

Also there's the small issue of trying to get Matías Jadue registered in time to play. Palestine have until 12 PM on Monday and my sources indicate that the PFA won't be able to do it.

Bad news aside, the spirit in the camp is fantastic and results on the pitch are encouraging. Stamina no longer seems yo be an issue with players seeing out a 0-0 draw with China last month. They also strutted their stuff in a 4-1 win over Malaysian champs JDT in Sydney earlier this week.

Tactics

Expect to see a good amount of bunker ball in this one. For all its draw backs it remains the best way to approach Japan (see Greece, Natal June 2014). For Palestine to succeed they will need to pack the midfield and set a disciplined defensive line that doesn't fall too deep. Forcing Japan into playing the ball out wide is risky but if Bahdari and Harbi can play to their potential it represents Palestine's best chance at keeping a clean sheet. In attack, Palestine will need to counter with speed- loom for Ashraf Nu'man to facilitate that from a deeper position.

Prediction

Japan will win but i won't be as comfortable as the 19-1 odds suggest.
Japan 3-1 Palestine