World Cup: Japan in sight of last-16
How big was Japan’s 2-1 upset of Germany in the opening round of the World Cup?
Newspapers in Japan used the term “Daikimboshi” from sumo wrestling to describe the magnitude of the surprise: when a low-ranked wrestler overpowers a grand champion. The victory has also been compared to Japan’s 34-32 upset of powerful South Africa in the 2015 rugby World Cup in England.
Japan was the underdog against four-time champion Germany, but it will be a strong favourite in its next Group E match against Costa Rica, where a victory could move the Samurai Blue into the knockout stage with a game to spare. A loss for Costa Rica on Sunday would eliminate it from advancing. Costa Rica face Germany in their final match and Japan go against Spain.
Costa Rica is reeling from a 7-0 thrashing against Spain in its opener, and it’s anyone’s guess how the Ticos will respond. With a population of just over 5 million, the tiny Central American country is appearing in its sixth World Cup. It reached the quarter finals in 2014 in Brazil.
Japan has never reached the quarter finals at a World Cup, and that’s the aim this time. This is Japan’s seventh straight appearance, and it has reached the round of 16 on three occasions, including in Russia in 2018. It lost 3-2 in stoppage time to Belgium after leading 2-0.
It was eliminated by Paraguay on penalties in 2010, and lost to Turkey 1-0 in 2002 when the country co-hosted the event with South Korea.
Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu has spoken often about going farther this time and breaking the “final-16 hex.”
The Japanese were helped by six Bundesliga players and one more playing in Germany’s second tier, as strikes from Freiburg’s Ritsu Doan and VfL Bochum’s Takuma Asano gave the Asian side their first-ever win over Germany.
Asano got the winner in the 83rd minute, squeezing the ball behind German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer from a very sharp angle.
For Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez, rebuilding his side’s shattered confidence is the priority. They had only 24 per cent of the possession against Spain.
It would also face the same problem against Japan, which is able to hold the ball for long spells, and is also a quick, counterattacking threat.
“We couldn’t complete three or four passes,” Suarez said of the Spain loss. “I’m worried that mentally the team won’t get out of this slump, this bad result,” he said after the defeat. “Logically, that’s the first thing I have to try to solve.
“We have to take responsibility for what happened but once we all talk about it, we need to forget about it.” To help him lift the side, the coach will turn to the few veterans from their 2014 campaign.