Sports, Football

Spain, Japan lock horns for last 16 berth

Published : 30 Nov 2022 07:55 PM

Group E leaders Spain will lock horns with second-placed Japan in an intriguing 2022 World Cup contest at the Khalifa International Stadium on Thursday evening.

Both nations failed to claim maximum points in their last group game, with La Roja forced to share the spoils with Germany, while the Blue Samurai suffered defeat against Costa Rica. After recording a shock 2-1 comeback victory against Germany in their opening Group E fixture, many tipped Japan to come away with all three points from Sunday's clash against Costa Rica.

However, the Blue Samurai were condemned to a slender 1-0 defeat by their Central American counterparts, with Keysher Fuller scoring the decisive goal nine minutes from time to blow Group E wide open ahead of the final round of fixtures.

A draw, meanwhile, could be enough to edge them through if Costa Rica fail to beat Germany or if the latter fail to win by two or more goals, but a defeat against La Roja would knock them out of the competition.

Whether Japan, ranked 24th in the world by FIFA, can pull off another seismic shock on Thursday remains to be seen, but Moriyasu will be keen to ensure his team put aside their most recent result and instead replicate their performance from matchday one.

Captain Maya Yoshida is poised to earn his 125th international cap, and the Schalke 04 defender is set to be joined in the back four by Miki Yamane, Ko Itakura and Yuto Nagatomo – the latter of whom has 140 caps to his name.

Either Ao Tanaka or Leganes' Gaku Shibasaki is set to replace Endo in centre-midfield, while Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano – who both scored in the shock win over Germany – will be hoping to start on the flanks, although Real Sociedad's Takefusa Kubo will also be pushing for a starting berth.

Eintracht Frankfurt playmaker Daichi Kamada is expected to continue in the number 10 role in behind either Daizen Maeda or Ayase Ueda.

As for Spain, 18-year-old midfielder Gavi has been absent from training due to a minor injury and is a doubt for Thursday's contest.

In addition, captain Sergio Busquets – who is one booking away from a suspension – is set to be rested, so there could be two midfield spots up for grabs, with Koke, Carlos Soler and Marcos Llorente all hoping to start their first game in Qatar.

However, Manchester City's Rodri could move up from centre-back to replace Busquets in the deep-lying midfield role, with either Pau Torres or Eric Garcia slotting into the heart of the defence alongside Aymeric Laporte.

Morata will be pushing to start in attack after scoring two goals in as many substitute appearances, and he could join Ferran Torres and Dani Olmo in the front three, with Marco Asensio potentially dropping to the substitutes' bench.