Japan v Spain
Group E’s top two face off in their third and final group stage match knowing that neither has yet secured safe passage to the knock-out rounds of the 2022 World Cup.
Spain sit top with four points from two games and know that by avoiding defeat to their Asian counterparts, they can secure qualification from the next round. Japan, meanwhile, need to avoid defeat to control their own destiny. Either Costa Rica or Germany could leapfrog them, and a draw may not be enough as a point against Spain would mean that goal difference would come into play and depend upon the result in the fixture between their two rivals.
Japan come into their third and final group game in Qatar needing a result against Spain, after completely failing against Costa Rica when in such a good position. After an excellent victory over Germany to open their campaign, Japan showed the other side of their game with a disappointing and tepid display against Costa Rica, and were punished for a single defensive error, when going for a 0-0 draw.
They now have nothing to lose – support has already turned pessimistic, and nothing is expected against Spain. This is where Japan can benefit; when they are underdogs, and expectations are low is when they play their best.
Injuries and knocks could also have a strong influence on this game. Luis Enrique faces the fixture without some of his regulars as Gavi and Rodri have not taken part in training this week, while Japan have been without Hiroki Sakai, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Yasuhito Endō.
An attacking change may be forced for Japan at right back, where not-100%-fit Hiroki Sakai is the usual first choice, but Miki Yamane is a more attacking option. There are also doubts about Wataru Endo, who missed some training, but Ao Tanaka is more than capable of coming in at central midfield.
This is only the second ever meeting between these two countries, coming 21 years after Spain emerged victorious with a 1-0 win in a friendly. Yet, Luis Enrique says that Spain “know Japan well, they have quality, fast and dynamic players” and recognised Japan’s ability “to press when they are losing”.
Both sides are bound to have a point to prove having failed to follow up on impressive wins in the opening matchday, and with so much at stake this game is likely to be an entertaining and hard-fought one with both sides needing goals to secure a place in the knock-out rounds.
Spain lead the pass attempts chart at the tournament and it isn’t even remotely close. Luis Enrique’s side have already attempted 1,763 passes and completed 1,578 of them, while the next closest in each of these categories is England, way back on 1,415 attempts and 1,235 completions.
As is logical, most of Spain’s passes have been made by their centre-backs, who always bring the ball out and who then park themselves on the halfway line to always provide a back pass option as Spain get to work. So, La Roja’s starting centre-backs Aymeric Laporte (253 attempts, 238 completions) and Rodri (248 attempts, 228 completions) are the top two players in the World Cup for these same passing stats after Matchday 2.
With Rodri potentially starting this third game in midfield if he is fit enough to start, to give Sergio Busquets a rest, it’s Laporte who should be backed if looking to profit off Spain’s passing centre-backs once more.
Only Gavi averages more fouls per 90 than Marco Asensio for Spain at the World Cup, and yet the forward’s aggression has gone largely unnoticed. With a spate of fouls committed as he presses in the opposition half, his harrying has seen Spain concede several free-kicks already at this tournament.
He has committed two fouls in both Sunday’s clash with Germany and in the warm-up friendly against Jordan, while having another one in the 7-0 win over Costa Rica. That gives him an average of 1.91 fouls per 90 since joining the Spain squad for this tournament.
Spain’s high press, which could rely more heavily than usual on Asensio with him expected to revert to a wide position for this game against Japan, encourages that aggression from the Real Madrid man and more fouls can be expected.
Now that Morita is 100% fit, as seen in the last game, he should get the start. In fact with the possibility that Wataru Endo is not 100% he may become the main man in defensive midfield, against a team that will be streaming through the middle at every opportunity.
Japan may well go 4-3-3-0 with three defensive/centrally-based midfield players, and Morita could be a key man in this game and, as with Endo, he is not afraid to take one for the team. With a result needed, and up against such a skilful team, he’s a good bet for a yellow card.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
18+ please gamble responsibly.
Haven’t got a Betfair account? You’re in luck…
Sign up to Betfair and get a full refund if your first bet loses. Grab an account through the offer below and place £20 on the 6/1 Japan v Spain Bet Builder. Here are the two possible outcomes:
* I recommend waiting for confirmed team line-ups before placing any bets *
* All odds displayed correct at the time of publishing *