Japan v Chile: Two-time reigning champions begin title defence

Chile start their bid for a third successive Copa America title in Sao Paulo on Monday, as they go up against Japan in their Group C opener.

La Roja defeated Argentina on penalties in both the 2015 and 2016 finals, though much has changed since then. Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi departed after the team's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, with Reinaldo Rueda appointed as his replacement.

The Colombian has won just five of his 13 games since taking charge in January 2018, though he has a squad containing a plethora of famous faces for the tournament in Brazil.

Arturo Vidal is one of the senior players included and the Barcelona midfielder believes Chile can come good at just the right time to defend their crown, which would see them join Argentina as the only nations to win three in a row.

"This squad should be feared, from the beginning to the final," Vidal told the media. "We hope it's going to be something amazing, but we're going to take it game by game.

"Everything is starting from new; a new process, new players, new coaches. It took us many days to talk about and clear up things."

Japan, meanwhile, are guests of CONMEBOL for a second time, having previously played at the 1999 tournament in Paraguay.

Coach Hajime Moriyasu has an impressive record at the helm, winning 12 of his 16 games, but will have to try to qualify for the knockout stages with a young squad that was picked with the 2020 Olympic Games in mind.

Teenager Takefusa Kubo, who completed a move to Real Madrid on Friday, is one to look out for, while goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and captain Shinji Okazaki provide some much-needed experience.

"I'm really looking forward to playing in the Copa America, it's one of the highest-level tournaments in the world," Moriyasu told reporters.

"How can we show our strength and which way we play, that's what we want to find out in this tournament."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Japan – Shinji Okazaki 

The forward was a hero in Leicester City's famous Premier League title triumph in 2015-16, so can he help his country spring a huge surprise in Brazil? Japan will lean heavily on their skipper to lead from the front.

Chile – Arturo Vidal

Chile have yet to hit top gear under Rueda, who will hope Vidal can drive the team forward from midfield. The 32-year-old is one of six players in the squad who has reached a century of international caps.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Japan and Chile have met twice previously, both friendlies played in Tokyo - a 0-0 draw in 2008 followed by a 4-0 win for Japan in 2009. Chile have lost only one of their seven meetings with Asian teams on neutral soil (W4 D2).
- Japan have won only one of their 13 competitive games against South American countries (D4 L8), the solitary success coming against Colombia at the 2018 World Cup (2-1). 
- Eduardo Vargas is the joint-top scorer for Chile in Copa America tournaments, alongside Enrique Hormazabal (10 goals).
- This will be Rueda's third Copa America tournament. He reached the semi-finals in 2004 with Colombia (W3 D1 L2) and was eliminated from the group stage in 2011 with Ecuador (D1 L2).
- Chile's last two Copa America tournaments have been under different bosses (Jorge Sampaoli in 2015 and Juan Antonio Pizzi in 2016).

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