Morocco's encounter with Japan in the second match of the Round of Sixteen at the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 should be like a home game for the North Africans. When the match kicks off at 8.30 p.m on Tuesday, Moroccan fans living in the Netherlands are expected to transform the Enschede stadium into a festive cauldron of colour and excitement.
With the crowd behind them, the Moroccans seem well placed to beat the Japanese and take their place in the quarter-finals. Nabil El Zhar, one of Morocco's outstanding players during the group phase, says he is optimistic as the match draws near. "We will approach this game like any other," the striker told FIFA.com. "We ought to be in good heart, and I think that what's important above all is that we play our own game rather than looking at what our opponents are doing."
Still, the Moroccans are unlikely to go through unless they pay at least some attention to their opponents. "Our coach has told us a bit about their strengths and weaknesses," said the Saint Etienne forward, who has been increasingly involved in his team's most dangerous moves as the tournament has progressed.
He would like to see an early goal: "It would be a great help if we could score early on, because then we could relax and develop our game better." But he says it is also vital that "everyone sticks to their role and keeps their concentration - we need to convert our chances and avoid letting in a goal."
The Moroccans have no trouble with the heat.
"During the African Championship in Benin in January it was much hotter," El Zhar adds. "Although the season has been a long one, we're OK - we recover quickly."
The North Africans hope that a combination of physical strength and mental toughness will overpower the Japanese, who they have never previously met in an international tournament. At the same time, they want to avoid unnecessary yellow cards that could weaken the team later in the tournament.
The man in the No.10 shirt has not been surprised that after losing their opening game with Spain, the Moroccans have won two successive matches for the first time in a FIFA World Youth Championship.
"It's always the same with us," he said. "We don't start out in peak form, but we improve as the tournament goes on. That's how it was during the African Championship. There we started out playing against weaker teams and raised our game against the stronger ones."
Japan look to improve
The Japanese, who only booked their place in the last 16 through an equaliser from Shunsuke Maeda just before the end of their final group game against Australia, are aiming to make life difficult for the Moroccans and clinch a quarter-final berth themselves.
"I never believed that a draw would be enough," said the exultant Japanese coach Kiyoshi Ohkuma after his team had qualified for the second round. He is principally pleased that his players now have the opportunity to accumulate further valuable experience.
In their previous 10 matches in FIFA World Youth Championships the Japanese had scored at least once. The Asians began their challenge well, almost equalising late on in their opening match against the host nation, but then had to come from behind to secure draws with both Benin and Australia. Against the Moroccans, the Japanese will need a significant upturn in performance if they are to stay in the tournament and at the same time collect their first victory of the competition.
Coach Kiyoshi Ohkuma told FIFA.com ahead of the second round match: "I expect an extremely difficult match against a physically robust side. We will play a fast-moving game and provide plenty of movement to create goalscoring opportunities. It will be especially important for us to pass the ball accurately."