Defending champions Chile get their Copa America campaign off to a start here against a team making their debut in the competition. Japan are one of two invited nations from outside of the Americas, and they are treating this year’s involvement in the Copa as a chance to give players major tournament experience ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games. The Samurai Blue have called up a largely inexperienced squad – sixteen of their players are uncapped – but have included former Leicester striker Shinji Okazaki and veteran ‘keeper Eiji Kawashima.
The Chilean squad is significantly more experienced, and looking to defend the title won in 2015 and in the specially-convened centenarial Copa America a year later. Having missed out on qualifying for last summer’s World Cup, they’ve got a few points to prove and could field as many as four players with more than 100 caps to their names in this match.
Japan vs Chile Prediction: Japan 0-3 Chile
There’s no doubt that Japan are viewing this tournament as an opportunity to give their players a taste of high-level action, and facing the two-time defending champions is certainly going to offer a formative experience. It is, however, a steep learning curve and at least five of their starters here will be making their international debut. Against a Chilean side that has been over every obstacle this tournament can throw at them, that inexperience can only be seen as a disadvantage and manager Hajime Moriyasu will be happy with anything but a heavy defeat.
Our recommended tip: Chile HT/FT
International football throws up a lot of issues you don’t see so often in the club game, the main one being unfamiliarity between players who haven’t had the chance to fuse partnerships in match situations. A look at the Chilean defence likely to start here shows that they could field close to 350 caps’ worth of experience just in the back four; as a comparison, the eight defenders Japan have brought share just 14 international appearances. Chile are well placed to exploit this lack of experience, and Betway have them at 5/4 to hold a lead at half time and come the end of the game, which is generous.
There isn’t too much to go on from the previous outings between these sides, as the last time they met was just over ten years ago – although, interestingly, 100-cap men Jean Beausejour, Gonzalo Jara and Gary Medel all played that day for Chile. The Asian side ran out 4-0 winners that day, in the invitational Japan-based Kirin Cup, but this match is being played under markedly different conditions and it would be a huge shock if the result, let alone the scoreline, from that night were to be repeated here.
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Players to watch: Takefusa Kubo & Arturo Vidal
One of the intriguing undercurrents to this match is an early chance for Real Madrid fans to see one of the club’s summer signings in action. Kubo, in the process of completing a move from FC Tokyo, was actually a youth trainee at Barcelona in his early teens. Now 18, he is seen as having the potential to be the biggest star ever to emerge from Japanese football. The polished attacking midfielder will need to show all of his sharpness against an often physical Chilean defence, but an impressive cameo here could be his launchpad for a big career.
Vidal is at the other end of his international career, having picked up 107 caps and experience in World Cups as well as in Serie A, the Bundesliga and, with his current club Barcelona, in La Liga. He may well cross paths with Kubo, given his role as a swashbuckling midfielder in the Chilean setup. Primarily, though, the 32-year-old will be expected to load bullets for Eduardo Vargas and Nicolas Castillo to fire; something he is more than capable of doing given his ability to pop up behind the strikers and play perceptive through balls.