Mangaung/Bloemfontein hosts its first game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ on Monday, a Group E contest pitting Cameroon against a Japan team who managed to win just one of their four warm-up matches, scoring a solitary goal. But the Indomitable Lions have not enjoyed the best of results recently either, drawing two and losing two of their own preparatory friendlies. This encounter between two teams potentially short on confidence already has a decisive air about it as, with group rivals Denmark and the highly-fancied Netherlands waiting around the corner, neither side will favour starting their second match on the back foot.
Paul Le Guen's Cameroon players may claim a psychological edge from the fact the west African side have never lost their opening FIFA World Cup match in five previous appearances. For their part, Japan can take comfort from the fact that they have never lost to Cameroon, nor have they even let in a goal. This game will be the first time that the countries have faced each other outside of Asia, their previous matches coming at the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2001 and in two later friendlies in Oita.
Both sides took relatively trouble-free routes to the global showpiece. While the four-time African champions finished top of their group in both qualifying rounds, Takeshi Okada's Japan claimed second place behind Australia, thereby avoiding the dreaded Asian Zone play-offs. Indeed, were it not for their propensity to draw matches, they may well have finished ahead of the Socceroos. They will want to kick their newly-acquired habit of gifting goals to the opposition: three of the last four goals they have conceded were self-inflicted, with two of these own goals coming in a 2-1 friendly defeat by England.
That said, Cameroon may not need any extra help from the Japanese defence, since they are able to count on the services of a certain Samuel Eto'o. As well as providing his team with some much-needed firepower, the Inter Milan striker will be out to show that he is worthy of the celebrity status accorded to him in Africa, especially in the absence of some of the continent's other star names, such as Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel. The first-ever FIFA World Cup on African soil gives Eto'o the perfect opportunity to showcase his not insignificant skills.
Marcus Tulio Tanaka v Samuel Eto'o
The tricky task of marking Cameroon's fearsome front man will fall upon the sizeable shoulders of Marcus Tulio Tanaka. The Sao Paulo-born Japanese international defender will have a five-centimetre height advantage over Eto'o and should be primed for the physical challenge. He proved in a recent friendly with Côte d'Ivoire, in which he accidentally injured Didier Drogba, that he is not one to shirk a tackle. The only black mark against his name is a tendency to put the ball into his own net – he was responsible for two of the three aforementioned own goals and Japan could do without him completing an unwanted hat-trick against Eto'o and Co.
23 - The number of goals scored by each side during their respective qualifying campaigns. The Africans attained the total in 12 matches, while the Japanese did it in 14.
What they say
"I'm expecting it to be just like an away match, but we'll make the best of it. We'll just need to concentrate on our game and show that we have a solid team," Keisuke Honda, Japan midfielder.
"We've worked very hard and we feel ready. We'll be playing against a team with a pacy front line, but we've come up against that before and will deal with it. It'll be difficult but we'll manage," Sebastien Bassong, Cameroon defender.
Voice of the fans
"My dear, beautiful country. My Indomitable Lions, strong and brave. Your warm-up results did not augur well, but knowing that you are all 'lionhearts', I'm very optimistic. We'll definitely get past the first round," hugo2010-89 (Cameroon).
The Japanese have never won a FIFA World Cup match beyond their own borders. Will they manage to put an end to this run against Cameroon? Or will the African side's defence perform better than it did in the run-up to the competition, when shipping seven goals in four matches?