Japan have already been labeled as one of the surprises of the 2022 FIFA World Cup after their victory against four-time champions Germany stunned pundits worldwide and put them in a terrific position to advance out of Group E.
Now, the Samurai Blue will look to do just that when they face off against Costa Rica on Sunday at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, where a win may be enough to book a spot in the Round of 16.
Should Japan take full points against the Ticos, and should Germany be unable to beat Spain, the Samurai Blue will be heading through to the knockout stages in consecutive World Cups for the first time ever.
Costa Rica will be no slouch, however. Despite a difficult 7-0 loss to Spain in their opener, they are an experienced side featuring several players that helped them to the quarter-finals in 2014. That includes goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who has proven throughout his career that he can make the difference in a tight contest.
Success for Japan will hinge upon breaking down what will be a Costa Rica side undoubtedly intent on being much more difficult to pass through than against Spain.
Samurai Blue manager Hajime Moriyasu deployed a variety of attackers to do this against Germany to start the match, beginning with Daizen Maeda, Junya Ito, Daichi Kamada and Takefusa Kubo, but it was his substitutes that ultimately got the job done.
Moriyasu's decisions to bring on Kaoru Mitoma, Ritsu Doan, Takumi Minamino and Takuma Asano paid off late in the match, with all four players contributing to the Samurai Blue goals.
With this deadly cadre of attackers putting Die Mannschaft to the sword in the second half, it seems likely that Moriyasu may opt to reengineer the attack to take the initiative early in a match Japan have to regard as a must-win.
Japan also need to keep an eye on holding firm at the back, though. The Samurai Blue only allowed a single goal against the fierce German attack, but it did take quite a bit of work from Shimizu S-Pulse’s Shuichi Gonda to make it hold. The goalkeeper won Man of the Match honors for his spectacular performance, amassing eight saves — the second most in a World Cup match for Japan ever.
It was a phenomenal performance from Gonda, but one that hints at the improvement that must happen as far as chance limitation if Japan want to be in this tournament longer than three matches.
That bid for improvement begins on Sunday against Costa Rica, when the Samurai Blue aim for another famous night on the football world's biggest stage.