Japan was a late learner. Between sumo and baseball, it took soccer many years to break through. In fact, until 1998, when the World Cup stopped in France, he did not manage to rub shoulders with the best. But since then they have gone to all the appointments. “Going to the World Cup is like an obligation for the Japanese, it is almost taken for granted because there is a lot of talent. In Asia there are not too many teams with options, they play it with Korea or Australia, sometimes Saudi Arabia sneaks in, but not much else", explains Sergi Samper, a footballer who grew up at La Masia but has defended the colors of Vissel Kobe since 2019.
Japan's ceiling in a World Cup is the round of 16, a round they have reached on three occasions: 2002 (when they hosted with South Korea), 2010 and 2018. In Qatar they broke many forecasts and signed one of the great surprises knocking down Germany but the sad defeat against Costa Rica practically forces them to have to beat Spain to repeat their presence among the top 16. "It's a team that lacks some maturity to be able to compete in this type of tournament with real chances," says Miguel Ángel Lotina, former coach of Tokyo Verdy, Cerezo Osaka, Shimizu S-Pulse and Vissel Kobe of the Japanese league. .
To seal their ticket to the round of 16, Spain will have to counteract a rival at the Jalifa Stadium with the ability to change drawing throughout the matches depending on the game as one of its main virtues. “Japan analyzes their rivals a lot tactically, they have very gifted players and during a game they are capable of changing the system two or three times. Sometimes it is to defend better and other times to attack better, but they always analyze everything very well and detect the problems, it is not difficult for them to vary the drawing”, Lotina states. "As a base, the team uses two patterns, the 4-2-3-1 or the 5-2-3 with two wingers who are almost forwards, although they prefer not to think too much and play on the counterattack rather than take the initiative," he adds. Samper.
Without too much margin for error, forced to beat Spain, Japan's performance in a situation of maximum pressure like this does not bode well for Japan's future in Qatar, according to Lotina: "At first, playing with pressure does not favor the players at all. Japanese, who shine much more when they are freed from extra-sporting loads. But all the players in this team have played in other leagues, have been in Europe, and are more used to pressure”. Regarding the game of the team led by Hajime Moriyasu, Samper points out his virtues: “It is a team with very talented players, very good, but irregular. They always do the same, the Japanese have three or four things that they do well but against certain rivals it is difficult for them to innovate and for the coach to provide solutions, no matter how much they change their drawing”.
Japan has its most media star in Daichi Kamada, Eintracht midfielder, but both Samper and Lotina agree in pointing out the same name as a great Japanese danger. "Although the coach always uses him as a boost and he never plays as a starter, I really like Mitoma, a right-handed winger who usually plays on the left," agrees Lotina. “Mitoma's one-on-one is spectacular,” concludes Samper.