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fifa world cup 2022

Confident Japan cannot underestimate Costa Rica

By Fred Varcoe

Nearly 30 years on, Japan has finally buried the “Tragedy of Doha.” That moment in 1993 when Iraq scored a last-minute equalizer against Japan in Doha to hand a World Cup spot to South Korea instead of Japan has haunted Japanese soccer for three decades. Japan’s 2-1 win over Germany in their opening World Cup match in Doha on Wednesday has now wiped that painful loss from the memory banks. Doha will now be remembered for glory, not tragedy.

On the same day in Qatar, Japan’s next opponents, Costa Rica, were hammered 7-0 by Spain, which naturally will lead many to believe that Japan can cruise past the minnows from Central America. But 7-0 defeats are rarely true reflections of a team’s status. In terms of results, they tend to be outliers, games where everything goes wrong. Japan should not underestimate the Costa Ricans.

This year, the Costa Rica national team has beaten the likes of Jamaica, Canada, the United States, Uzbekistan and Nigeria, conceding just six goals in 11 games, so you can’t read too much into the 7-0 loss against Spain. After the win, Spain’s Dani Olmo said: “I don't think it was a question of Costa Rica being bad; it was about our team being strong.”

Teams that lose badly often recover in the next game and it’s unlikely that Costa Rica can get any worse. Spain strung together over a thousand passes and Costa Rica failed to register a shot at goal. That’s impressively bad, but we’re talking about one of the favorites in the tournament playing at their peak. 

Costa Rica is ranked 31st in the world, only seven places lower than Japan, and they reached the quarterfinals eight years ago. While most of their players are from the country’s domestic league, they still have some experience, notably Paris Saint-German keeper Keylor Navas, Brian Oviedo, who used to play for Everton, and Joel Campbell who was with Arsenal. Sunderland attacker Jewison Bennette is also making a name for himself at the age of 18. That said, Costa Rica only finished fourth in CONCACAF qualifying and reached Qatar with a 1-0 win over New Zealand.

Japan, of course, will go into the game with confidence very high, but that is largely on the basis of 30 minutes of good football rather than 90 minutes. Here are some of my notes from the first half while I was watching the game: “Ito, Kubo suspect defensively … Ito, Sakai not covering down the right … penalty a result of poor covering by Ito and Sakai … Kubo not up to pace … need Tomiyasu on … Japan can’t hold on to the ball.”

Hiroki Sakai was dreadful at right back and wasn’t helped by Junya Ito’s lack of cover down the right. To his credit, Ito scared Germany with his pace early on with German defender Nico Schlotterbeck having a nightmare of a game. It was no surprise that Germany had 74 percent of the possession in the match as Japan struggled to keep hold of the ball. Luckily, Germany didn’t do much with the ball when they had it and the other three defenders for Japan – Maya Yoshida, Ko Itakura and Yuto Nagatomo – did what defenders should do: defend.

Manager Hajime Moriyasu – a starter in the “Tragedy in Doha” 30 years ago – wisely brought on Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu for the ineffectual Takefusa Kubo at half-time and switched to a back three, making the hole left by Sakai less visible. 

Twelve minutes into the second half, Moriyasu switched from holding back the Germans to attacking them, bringing on Takuma Asano for Daizen Maeda and Brighton winger Kaoru Mitoma for Yuto Nagatomo. Both players have been guilty of switching off during games in the past, but for this challenge, they were buzzing. 

When Moriyasu raised the offensive stakes even higher by bringing on striker Ritsu Doan for midfielder Ao Tanaka and midfielder Takumi Minamino for Sakai, it was all or nothing for Japan. It turned out to be an inspired set of substitutions by a manager that some wanted sacked early on in Japan’s World Cup campaign.

But ultimately, it was goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda who won it for Japan. After giving away a very stupid penalty in the first half and continuing his habit of flapping ineffectively at corners and free-kicks, Gonda turned into Superman in the second half with a series of excellent saves. But that was when the Germans were on target. If the German attackers had been a little more composed with their shooting, the game would have been dead long before Japan’s first goal. 

In some ways, Gonda’s best moment was the least talked about. With the seven minutes of stoppage time almost up, Germany had a corner. Finally, Gonda thrust himself forward and punched the ball away from the heads of the German attackers and the game ended.

It was one of the World Cup’s most memorable games and certainly Japan’s greatest. Japan’s confidence will be sky high, but Moriyasu will hopefully be cautioning his players against over-confidence. As captain Maya Yoshida said after the Germany game: “It is still tough to go through. We have to be humble and very careful.” Wise words.

Japan vs Costa Rica. Nov 27, 7 p.m. (Japan time). Live on TV Asahi.

© Japan Today

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There is no way gaffer Moriyasu will be complacent against these minnows, Costa Rica. On paper, Japan is far superior - but as we are seeing there have been 2 or 3 upsets already. Just defend well and launch attacks at the right time and the win will come. Japan will be in the knockout stages!

Go Moriyasu-Japan! 126 million hearts are with you!

-5 ( +5 / -10 )

Never underestimate anybody. Never overestimate yourself. That's a lesson to learn from the Japan vs German game.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

I love Costa Rica and always hope for the best, assuming they aren't going against the USA team. But love of the game isn't sufficient and having a small population means the pool of excellent players and team members to win the World Cup just isn't possible.

Spain and Brazil are amazing this year.

I'll hope for Japan on Dec 1 at against Spain, but I fear it won't be sufficient.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

If you look at the Germany Japan game stats, Japan has no reason to be confident. I'm not trying to cut them down, but possession time, pass accuracy, shots.. It was all Germany. Japan got lucky, and the better team lost that game. Better to have humility in light of those facts than confidence.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

Japan were not lucky, they dominated the second half. Even the locals were on Japan’s side as they disliked the Germans playing politics.

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

This Costa Rica squad only narrowly beat new Zealand in the qualifiers.

They are the cash out team for the other three

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

England are going to crash out of the group stages since they got “lucky” when the Iranian goalkeeper was injured.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

seanwd20: "Japan were not lucky, they dominated the second half."

Well, yes and no. They were lucky Germany became somewhat complacent after their first goal, as well as overconfident. But, you're right that they played very hard in the second half.

"Even the locals were on Japan’s side as they disliked the Germans playing politics."

What do you mean? Being against the anti-LGBT stance of the nation of Qatar? If that is what you are saying then you are saying the local people stand behind Japan in supporting the such a stance, which would seem normal for the locals as they likely buy into said feelings. Also, that is one reason why the crowd had more Japanese than Germans -- Germans were boycotting while Japan SAYS it stands with the LGBT crowd but then betrays that with their overwhelming evidence. Or are you suggesting there are other politics at work, and what might those be?

In any case, they should most certainly NOT underestimate Costa Rica, and likewise no one should further underestimate Japan. They've proven it's anyone's game, and even if they go no further they can still be proud of themselves.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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