It is something of a high-speed train meeting an immovable force when Japan take on the Czech Republic in the Round of 16 in Victoria on Wednesday. The speedy Japanese will be looking for a way through the well-organised Czechs, who will try to control possess and the pace of the contest as much as possible. The Group F-winning Japanese are favoured against the Europeans whose major claim to fame at Canada 2007 thus far has been a scoreless draw with defending champions Argentina in their opening match.
A place in the quarter-finals, which means a trip to Edmonton and a date with the winner of the Brazil - Spain match. The only Asian side to make it out of the group stage, the Japanese have a fair amount of momentum after brushing aside Scotland, luckily squeaking by Costa Rica and then holding out for a scoreless draw with Nigeria to secure top of the group while resting eight regular players. After successfully nullifying Argentina's many threats, the Czechs were on the wrong side of the luck equation in a sluggish 2-2 draw with Korea DPR that saw them give up a late penalty. An explosive last 15 minutes saw them past Panama 2-1 and into the next round, and they will need to keep that level going.
Worried about the size and strength of the Czechs, the Japanese have been working hard at set pieces. Once again central defender and captain Yohei Fukumoto will be called upon to deal with the power players in the box. The question for the Europeans is which side will emerge, the conservative or the attack-minded one. Either way, Martin Fenin is the key man up front for the Europeans while most of the creative duties and dangerous free kick opportunities will fall to Marek Stresik. Neither team is dealing with any suspensions or injuries and any first round cautions have been cleansed from the record of the players.
The U-20 teams from Japan and the Czech Republic played in a final group match at Argentina 2001. And though the Japanese won 3-0 against a weakened Czech side, they were eliminated and the Europeans went through to the next round. That was their only loss to an Asian team at a FIFA U-20 World Cup, where they have accumulated two wins and a draw (Korea DPR in Group E of this tournament) against other Asian sides.
"Their defence is obviously very strong. Their performance against Argentina was impressive. They didn't allow many chances, and they filled holes in their own half quickly. It will be a challenge for us to break them down, and each chance and definitely each goal will be very important. We are training normally, though focusing on set plays because of their bigger players. I think the mental part of the match, who wants to win the most, will be the most important factor." Yasushi Yoshida, Japan coach.
"We know that their players are big and strong and tough, so we will have to fight very hard just as we did against Scotland. We are mostly worried about their opportunities from free kicks and corner kicks. Stopping those chances will be key for us." Tsukasa Umesaki, Japan midfielder.
"We've played two very similar teams recently - North Korea in this tournament and South Korea before - so I think we know what to expect. We are worried about them because they are very fast, but if we play and fight as a team we should be able to overcome that strength." Martin Fenin, Czech forward.