Japan’s Bold Expectation for the World Cup Top 8 – The “Group of Death” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Japan’s Bold Expectation for the World Cup Top 8 – The “Group of Death”

Jun Nakayama, a soccer journalist who has covered international soccer for many years, talks about Japan's success at the World Cup in Qatar.

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The draw for the World Cup was held late at night on April 2, Japan time. Japan was placed in a group known as the “Group of Death.”

As a result of the draw for the Qatar World Cup, which will start on November 21 this year, Japan has been placed in Group E and will face two of the world’s strongest teams, Germany and Spain. The other team will play the winner of the intercontinental playoff between Costa Rica (4th in North, Central America and the Caribbean) and New Zealand (1st in Oceania), scheduled for June 14.

Forward Thomas Müller (32) is a key player for the German national team. He leads the team’s attack with his excellent scoring.

Generally, this group is seen as a “top-two, bottom-two” group, but conversely, it is also a chance for Japan to make a huge upset.

The first opponent in their first match will be Germany (ranked 12th in FIFA), the defending World Cup champions (including the West Germany era) with four previous World Cup titles to their credit. Japan has a big advantage in the “information warfare” game.

There is a history of several Japanese players playing in Germany, with eight currently playing in the first division of the Bundesliga and four in the second division. In addition, the JFA (Japan Football Association) opened an office in Düsseldorf two years ago, providing a good environment for obtaining information on their opponents.

Since it is unlikely that Germany will try any surprise moves against Japan, Japan should be able to carefully analyze their opponents based on the wealth of information they have, develop a strategy and tactics to get at least one point, and focus their energy only on implementing them on the pitch.

Germany lost to England in the first round of last summer’s European Championships (EURO) final tournament, ending the 15-year reign of Joachim Löw (62), and Hans-Dieter Flick (57), is now in charge of rebuilding the team. The team is not mature yet, and there is still a possibility that a minor flaw could be created.

The biggest point is not to score goals. Japan’s basic 4-3-3 system is a strong defensive weapon, so the key will be to prepare effective counter attacks against it.

Keylor Navas, Costa Rica’s national team’s defender, still has amazing reflexes at age 35.

The second matchup will have to wait for the results of the intercontinental playoffs, but Costa Rica (FIFA rank 31st) is the most likely team to play. Costa Rica’s main weapon is its solid defense, led by goalkeeper Keylor Navas (35), a member of Paris Saint-Germain (France’s first division), a powerhouse club that attracts stars from around the world. The team made it to the top eight.


However, unlike those days when there were 12 players from Europe, the current team, led by Colombian Luis Fernando Suárez (62), has fewer than five players, including Navas, who play in Europe. If clubs are the standard by which individual players are measured, then Japan has the edge in terms of strength, since it can field an entire team made up entirely of European players.

On the other hand, the members of New Zealand (FIFA rank 111th) are mainly from overseas. Their ace is forward Chris Wood (30), who plays for Newcastle and has scored 50 Premier League goals. While New Zealand lost to Japan in a penalty shootout after extra time at the Tokyo Olympics, they showed a breath of fresh young talent. Overall, however, the Japanese advantage remains unmoved.


Pedri is the new jewel of the Spanish national team, which is full of technicians. He is already a key player in his team, Barcelona (Spain’s first division).

If the team has four points after the first two games as planned, they will be through to the group if they get one point against Spain in the third game. In some cases, there is a possibility of going through even if they lose to Spain.


Spain (ranked 7th in FIFA), led by Luis Enrique (51), is even more talented than Germany, and its greatest weapon is an attacking possession style that captivates the viewer. In addition to an experienced core, many young talents such as Pedri (19), Dani Olmo (23), Ferran Torres (22), and other Tokyo Olympics generation players, as well as 17-year-old Gavi, will give the team momentum. If they go head-to-head, there is no doubt that Japan will have an uphill battle.

However, if Spain had six points by the time the third game was played, they could rest their main players and field a B team. That would be an ideal development and the best scenario for Japan. The chances of finishing in second place ahead of Germany would be much greater.


If Japan successfully advances through the group, their opponents in the Round of 16 will most likely be either Belgium (FIFA rank #2) or Croatia (FIFA rank #15). Both teams are strong opponents, but both have played each other twice in past World Cups. They should be mentally more comfortable than playing Germany or Spain.


They have nothing to fear, especially since they have a history with Belgium, having run them into the ground despite an upset in the 2018 tournament, including a draw (2-2) in the 2002 tournament.

In any case, it is clear to all that Japan is in the position of a challenger this time from the start of the competition. This is why, with nothing to lose, they can take advantage of this and boldly take on the challenge without fear of defeat.


Japan’s goal of advancing to the top eight has a glimmer of hope there.

  • Interview and text Jun Nakayama Photo Kyodo News Images

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