After inexplicably trying to shut up shop in their first match after Keisuke Honda gave them the lead, which they ultimately lost 2-1, Japan put in an insipid performance against Greece last Thursday, not even threatening to score despite the opposition spending over 50 minutes with ten men and camped inside their own half. That means Japan don't have their fate entirely in their own hands heading into tonight's clash with Colombia, and even a win against José Pékerman's already-qualified side may not be enough.
Few have symbolised the team's lethargy more than Shinji Kagawa. The Manchester United forward was anonymous against Ivory Coast and subsequently dropped to the bench for the Greece game. Although he showed some brief flashes after coming on as a second-half substitute he was still nowhere near his full capability. Indeed, the team as a whole have frequently expressed regret at not playing jibuntachi no sakka (our own football) thus far in the competition – although more cynical observers may suggest that hogging possession but lacking any cut or thrust in the final third is traditionally what Japan do best.
The performances may not warrant it but there is still an outside chance of making the last 16 and, bizarrely, the failure to beat Greece may work in the side's favour. Fernando Santos's side would have been all-but-eliminated had Japan beaten them but can now still mathematically make it to the knockout stage themselves, meaning that a Ivory Coast victory over the 2004 European champions – which would knock both Greece and Japan out – is not a foregone conclusion.
A draw in that game coupled with a Japan win by two or more goals would be enough for Zac and co, while victories for Greece and Japan would also suffice – provided they don't come with a swing of two or more goals in the Greeks' favour. That is taking glass-half-full optimism close to its limits though. Expectations, which were so high before the competition, have rapidly diminished and there aren't many anticipating a first World Cup finals win over South American opposition. If Japan are going to go out it would be nice if they could do it with a bit of style though. Sean Carroll