Germany v Japan
Four-time world champions Germany will be hoping to make a vast improvement from their previous World Cup. Finishing bottom in a group that contained Sweden, Mexico and South Korea, many called for the resignation of Joachim Low back in 2018 but the DFB persisted which ultimately led to a poor Euro 2020.
In their way is a Japanese side who enter the tournament with low expectations, which could ultimately work in their favour.
Appointed as Low’s successor last year, Flick’s tenure would start with seven successive wins as Die Mannschaft secured their place at the 2022 World Cup. Scoring 31 goals and conceding two in seven games, it felt like a new chapter.
Wednesday sees the start of that next chapter when they play Japan in the opening game of Group E. Alongside Spain and Costa Rica, this feels like a must win game for Flick. One, it’s difficult seeing them beat Spain and they realistically need six points to advance and two, they will want to make a statement in their opening game – they’ve won three of their last four opening World Cup games.
Against a Japan squad that contains Ko Itakura, Maya Yoshida, Hiroki Ito, Wataru Endo, Ritsu Doan, Takuma Asano and Daichi Kamada, Germany will come up against some familiar faces with the aforementioned all plying their trade in the Bundesliga.
Japan will likely adjust their usual 4-2-3-1 (more a 4-2-4-0 with three attacking midfielders and a nominal striker rotating) to a more central midfield-emphasising 4-3-3, giving them more bite in midfield. If all three are available Ao Tanaka and Wataru Endo – both playing in Germany – will line up alongside Hidemasa Morita to attempt to restrict German advances through the middle.
Up front, or at least in the attacking midfield is where Japan has so much talent, but these players must convert chances, which will be few and far between, surely, against the might of Germany.
Flick had toyed with a 3-4-3 but is likely to stick with his preferred 4-2-3-1. The defence largely picks itself but it’s in attack where Germany have had problems. Timo Werner, Marco Reus and Lukas Nmecha, all of whom would have been selected in the 26-man squad, picked up injuries and will miss the tournament. With the expanded squads from 23 to 26, there was always going to be a place for Niclas Füllkrug, the highest-scoring German in Europe this season with 10 Bundesliga goals.
Germany’s key to winning this game is getting the attacking trio of Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Jamal Musiala, who will likely start behind Kai Havertz, on the ball. Domestically, the trio behind Havertz are in excellent form and if they transfer that to the national team, Germany can be dangerous, and should kick start their tournament with three points.
On current form, it would be a surprise if Serge Gnabry didn’t start against Japan. Niclas Füllkrug isn’t likely to be match fit given he’s just recovered from the flu, which could result in Flick choosing Gnabry to be the No. 9. If not, expect him to play on the right-side of a trio behind the main forward. Gnabry comes into the World Cup in excellent form with seven goals and five assists in 11 games across all competitions for Bayern Munich. He likes to progress the ball into the final third, often resulting in a shot at goal. Gnabry has averaged 1.96 shots per 90 for Bayern this season so expect that to transfer to international level. As Japan looks to frustrate Germany with their low block, expect Gnabry to see a lot of the ball.
Germany head into this World Cup looking to redeem themselves after an underwhelming Russia 2018 campaign. Die Mannschaft have won just three of their nine games this year, but this has often been against elite opposition, so this shouldn’t be too concerning against a lackluster Japan side who head into the tournament off the back of a defeat against Canada.
Germany has won three of their last four opening World Cup games and is undefeated against Japan who themselves have only won one of their last eight World Cup matches. Realistically, Germany will struggle to get 3 points against Spain, so they know this is a must-win match and will be keen to make a statement in their opening game. The quality of Germany’s players should see them past Japan.
Wataru Endo was always more prone to a little malice-when-needed than most Japanese players, even in his earlier days, and, having become a stalwart in the Bundesliga he is not afraid to put it about and let a player know he is there. His tackles are 100% already, while he will hesitate to take someone out if needed, taking one for the team. The chances are Japan have just three games, especially if they allow Germany to have it all their own way and if anyone will be there to stick a boot in to stop a breakaway, it is Wataru Endo. A yellow card, to help save a point and perhaps live another day, will be a small price to pay, and will not worry this player.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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