Paraguay will have to be extra wary of giving away free kicks against Japan in their World Cup round of 16 match on Tuesday,because the Asian team boasts no fewer than three clinical set-piece specialists.
Forward Keisuke Honda and midfielder Yusuhito Endo both scored against Denmark from long range,while coach Takeshi Okada can also call on substitute winger Shunsuke Nakamura,who scored brilliant free kicks during his time with Celtic.
Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi thinks his team may struggle to match Paraguay if drawn into physical battles,and said playing cleverly could be a way to get around that disadvantage. It will only get more difficult as we advance. Paraguay have strong players,good technique,and good organization. So it will be a tough match, Kawaguchi said. Free kicks are a strong point for us. Its very important for us to get free kicks near their penalty area.
Japan will reach the quarterfinals for the first time if it beats Paraguay in Pretoria.
Okadas tactics are likely to change from the group stage,switching from a more open style to one based on counterattacks after having lured Paraguay up the field. Honda and Endo punished Denmark using the same tactics in their final Group E game,which Japan won 3-1 to qualify.
Other option Nakamura has been sparsely used so far at this World Cup,making only a substitutes appearance in the 1-0 loss to the Netherlands.
But he is arguably even more dangerous than Honda and Endo from set pieces. The 32-year-old Nakamura was adored by Celtic fans in his four seasons at the club from 2005-09.
In his second season,Nakamura scored free kicks home and away against Manchester United including one from 30 yards (meters)- to help Celtic reach the knockout stage. He also won goal of the season with another spectacular effort.
Overall,Nakamura scored 33 goals in 164 games for Celtic,many of them free kicks.
Midfielder Junichi Inamoto,a 30-year-old veteran of three World Cups,said Okada knows exactly how to use the teams strengths and has given Japan a solid base through a defense well led by Marcus Tulio Tanaka.
Were an experienced team,and we know how things work in a World Cup, Inamoto said. Physically speaking,were at our best. Or defense will be crucial,and its been working really well.