Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi expects Yaya Toure to be available despite a thigh injury, but admits not all his players are “100% fit”.
Toure’s elder brother Kolo is available after recovering from malaria.
Japan captain Makoto Hasebe is fit after a long-term knee problem but faces competition from Hotaru Yamaguchi for a midfield starting spot.
Defenders Maya Yoshida and Atsuto Uchida have also recently returned from lengthy absences and will play.
Anyone committed enough to stay up for the latest kick-off of the 2014 World Cup, which gets underway at 0200 BST and 2200 local time, should be amply rewarded.
The Japanese played some wonderful football at the 2013 Confederations Cup and were involved in the match of the tournament –
which ended in the early hours. The Ivorians, meanwhile, boast some genuine superstars for whom this tournament represents a final chance to shine on the grandest stage of all.
More to the point, both teams’ strengths are in attack. In the last 12 months the Japanese have played 17 games, keeping clean sheets only twice (against Guatemala and Cyprus), scoring 37 goals and conceding 33.
Those defensive weaknesses were again in evidence in their final warm-up game, a 4-3 win against Zambia on 6 June.
It is a largely similar story for the Ivory Coast – their previous seven games have seen both sides score, and it is almost a year since their last clean sheet.
Their defence was repeatedly exposed in May’s 2-1 defeat to Bosnia and Hercegovina, and their tally of three clean sheets in World Cup qualifying is the joint lowest of any side who made it to Brazil.
Les Elephants were mightily relieved to have avoided being drawn in a “Group of Death” as they were at the 2006 and 2010 tournaments.
But just as in South Africa, their build-up to this tournament has been dominated by concern over one of their star players.
Four years ago Didier Drogba was hampered by a broken arm – an injury coincidentally sustained in a warm-up game against Japan.
This summer, fans are fretting over the fitness of star midfielder Yaya Toure, who has been sidelined by a thigh injury since the end of the Premier League season.
Head coach Sabri Lamouchi must be sorely tempted to gamble on the fitness of his best player, despite hinting he is not “100% fit”. But with Japan’s slick midfield interplay one of their strengths, the Ivorians can ill-afford any passengers.
- Japan have won two of their three previous meetings with the Ivory Coast, which came on home turf in friendlies in 1993 and 2008.
- The African side won the most recent encounter, beating the Blue Samurai 2-0 in a World Cup warm-up game in Switzerland in June 2010.
- Didier Drogba and Kolo Toure got the goals, but Drogba broke a bone in his arm, an injury which severely hampered him in South Africa.
- Didier Drogba played a combined total of 384 minutes at the 2006 and 2010 World Cup, and had only two shots on target – both of which he scored.
- Drogba is the Ivory Coast’s record goalscorer with 63 goals in 101 games.
- They kept just three clean sheets in qualifying – no team who made to Brazil had a lower total (Ghana’s tally was also three).
- The Ivorians have scored in all but one of their six previous World Cup matches. Their 0-0 draw with Portugal in 2010 was the only game in which they failed to net.
- The Blue Samurai have only won four World Cup matches, half of which came against African opposition. They beat Tunisia in 2002 and Cameroon in 2010 – their only previous games against sides from Africa.
- The Japanese are unbeaten in their previous six matches (all friendlies), winning the last five.
- Keisuke Honda has been directly involved in three of Japan’s last four World Cup strikes (two goals, one assist).
For live coverage of this match,