Japan's World Cup fate depends on Spain finale

Japan's World Cup fate depends on Spain finale

As exciting as Japan's 2022 FIFA World Cup opening win over Germany was, their subsequent loss to Costa Rica was perhaps just as disappointing.

Now, with one match left, the Samurai Blue have an opportunity to put it all right if they can return to impressive form in the final Group E matchday.

Beat Spain, and they are through to the knockout stages.

It’s that simple for Japan, who have already proven they can beat a top team at the World Cup and now have a spot in the Round of 16 within their grasp.

Japan and Costa Rica are both tied on three points, one back of Spain. Germany are bottom on one point, setting up a final day in which the Samurai Blue are guaranteed to advance with a win, but can go through with a draw as well if the other Group E tilt ends in a draw — or even perhaps a low-scoring, one-goal German win, depending on total goals scored.

Japan won't want to rely on anything apart from their own results, though.

The Samurai Blue attack that punished Germany in the second half went missing against Costa Rica and manager Hajime Moriyasu’s focus will surely be on how to find the right combination to unlock the opposing defense again.

Daizen Maeda, Ayase Ueda and Takuma Asano have all gotten turns up front and all three bring different attributes to the pitch, but Moriyasu will have to choose which one can most trouble Spain. He’ll also have to pick from his array of wingers and attacking midfielders, with the introduction of Kaoru Mitoma in the last match providing a particular spark.

One place where Moriyasu has found a lot of success is with his substitutes, as four subs all came on to contribute to the two goals against Germany. The introductions of Mitoma, Takumi Minamino and Junya Ito also made massive differences against Costa Rica. The task for the Japan boss now is finding the right balance of getting players on the pitch who can threaten from the start, while also maintaining the ability to change matches with subs.

This is all easier said than done, of course. Spain are one of the most talented teams in the tournament and they will certainly use the likes of Gavi, Pedri and Marco Asensio to challenge the Samurai Blue defense and keep Japan pinned back.

Maya Yoshida has expertly marshaled that backline defense thus far, though, leading the rearguard alongside Ko Itakura to limit the chances of both Germany and Costa Rica.

In full, it will take a total team performance to topple Spain, but it is plenty possible for a Japan side that has already made waves once in Qatar.

If they can do it one more time, they’ll be playing in the Round of 16 in consecutive World Cups for the first time ever.