It may be a surprise to some, but they would do well to get used it: the game which will decide the fourth semi-finalist of the FIFA Confederations Cup is Brazil versus Japan. While most had predicted that Carlos Alberto Parreira's team would have already booked their place in the last four going into this game, the defeat against Mexico has left the Brazilians in a precarious position: they cannot afford any more slip-ups if they want to progress in the 'Festival of Champions'.
Despite sharing second spot with three points each, a draw would favour the samba stars given their superior goal difference. Although it is difficult to imagine the five-times world champions playing for the draw, it is bound to affect the way the match shapes up. Japan are the ones who need to win to earn their place in the semi-finals. The big question is: will we see the Brazil team that destroyed Greece or the one that ground to a halt against Mexico?
Respect yes, stage fright no
Surely the ideal man to offer us a unique insight on this intriguing duel between the champions of Asia and South America is Japan coach Zico, known in Brazil as the 'White Pele'. After cementing qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany and beating European champions Greece in their last game, Zico believes that the sky is the limit. "We know that Brazil are a major force and that it will be a very difficult game. But we need to keep our heads up and believe that we can win. I´m absolutely certain that we´re capable of doing it but we need to work together and play to our strengths."
He may well have a point. Against the European champions, his team stuck diligently to their tactical plan and displayed tremendous teamwork. However, if they want to beat Brazil, they will need to overcome their lack of killer instinct in front of goal, and Zico knows it. "Japanese football is technically very strong, but they still struggle to put away the opportunities they create. Against Greece our attackers almost looked scared in front of goal. If they could be a bit more composed, they'd stick a few more away," explained their coach.
A giant with wounded pride
Nobody likes to lose and Parreira is no exception. The defeat against Mexico struck a nerve, and the experienced coach has made it abundantly clear that he will not hesitate to make any changes necessary to his starting XI, be they tactical or enforced, despite the amount riding on the game: "We need to win. If we lose against Japan, we´ll be out of the tournament. Therefore, I´m going to make any changes I see fit. A coach always shoulders the responsibility, especially when his team loses, and against Japan we're going to run the risk of playing with a changed team." Which begs the question: who is going to start?
Parreira may have politely refused to give away his starting lineup against Japan, but he did let slip some fairly hefty clues. "The full-backs Cicinho and Gilberto have already played two games and we´ve had a good look at them. We now know how they play and how they respond to the pressure. Perhaps it's the right time to give Maicon and Leo a run-out," stated the Seleção coach, as expected by many of those present at the press conference.
Parreira did however spring a surprise when asked if he was seriously considering dropping any of the 'Fab Four' of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Robinho and Adriano: "If I decide that one of those players needs a rest, I won´t hesitate to substitute him. Moreover, I think that those four players, because of the way they play, tend to try and force their way through the middle, and we need to start using the width of the pitch." Ronaldinho may yet start on the bench.
The Brazil believes that Japan are no longer the soft touch they might have been in the past. "Before the European Championship, for example, they beat the Czech Republic, who'd gone 35 games unbeaten. Now they´ve just beaten the European champions. They are a quick team, who work hard on their technique and could cause us problems with their pace. But we can't go speculating on what might happen, winning is our only option," he added.
The showdown between the Japanese and Brazilians has become so important for both sides that Ronaldinho, the man everybody wants to see, summed it up perfectly: "It´s going to be like a final."