Following a famous win over Germany, Japan will look to continue the positive momentum and seal early progression into the Last 16 when they face Costa Rica at the Al-Rayyan Stadium on Sunday.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is shaping up to be a tournament for underdog fairytales. November 22 will be remembered as the greatest day in Saudi Arabian sporting history. Following their stunning victory over Argentina, the Saudi King a public holiday to mark the triumph.

Japan then repeated the feat, pulling off a stunning comeback to defeat Germany in their World Cup opening match on Wednesday to announce Asian football’s resounding progress in recent years.

The Blue Samurai showed an A-game against Germany. All players put the work rate and grit for the team’s cause to stay solid and compact defensively. They also showed that they can cause teams problems with the exuberant energy of the diminutive attacking players.

Japan absorbed Germany’s pressure, conceded the penalty but never gave up, only trailing by one goal. And with substitutes bringing fresh legs and quality off the bench, they were able to launch the offensive on Germany’s defence with vigour and menace, leaving Die Mannschaft in disbelief late in the game with their desire to pin the giant opponents in their own half. There was no way out of their energetic press.

The result means the Blue Samurai have now put themselves in a solid position to advance to the next phase of the tournament. And they have a track record of doing so, having progressed to the last 16 on three previous times. The tournament dark horses have the quality on their roster, and will be determined to go deep in the competition this time around.

Costa Rica, in contrast, were thrashed 7-0 by Spain in their opening game and will be seeking to respond here. While they never stood a chance in the so-called “Group of Death”, that was a humiliating battering and lacked any effort in their display. They will be desperate to perform better than they did in their season opener and prove that terrible performance was a one-off.

Prior to their loss to Spain, Costa Rica had only lost only once in 13 games, having won ten of them, with their defence at the forefront of their qualification for the World Cup, only conceding eight in their 14 qualifying games. So, it might just be Spain being very clinical and efficient in front of the goal. Still, the Central Americans left a lot to be desired for in their meek outing.

Japan will face mighty Spain in their final Group E game, meaning Costa Rica would be a crucial opponent for them to confirm their ticket for the next round. The Hard Tackle will now take a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Japan

Japan’s defensive efforts against Germany were not without cost, with Hiroki Sakai forced off with a left hamstring strain, while Takehiro Tomiyasu picked up a hamstring injury. Both are a doubt for the Costa Rica game and are unlikely to be risked here.

Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu made some interesting tactical changes against Germany. But this will be a completely different task for his side, with Costa Rica likely to sit back and allow Japan to have lion’s share of possession. That will require more intricate and technical players like Takefusa Kubo, Takuma Asano, Kaoru Mitoma, and Takumi Minamino, as they will have less room to attack in.

Goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda gifted a goal to Germany but bounced back with several goal-saving strikes. He will likely keep his spot here, with the defensive duo of Ko Itakuraand Maya Yoshida to protect him from the front. With Tomiyasu and Sakai on the sidelines, they will be deputised by Miki Yamane at right back. Elsewhere, Yuto Nagatomo will be deployed as the left-back.

The midfield double pivot of Wataru Endo and Ao Tanaka are expected to retain their place in the starting eleven at the base of the 4-2-3-1. Their great showing in the opening fixture provided the attacking players with the foundation to show their creativity.

Speaking of creative players, Eintracht Frankfurt playmaker Daichi Kamada will be responsible for engineering a plethora of inviting chances for his teammates on the attacking third of the pitch. Former Real Madrid winger Takefuso Kubo, who has appeared on Los Blancos’ radar again, will be a player to keep an eye on.

Takumi Minamino, who came off the bench to make an impact against Germany, is expected to start here. With 17 goals in 45 appearances, the AS Monaco man is Japan’s active leading scorer making it into the World Cup squad.

The fact that Japan could bring on the likes of in-form Mitoma and Junya Ito off the bench – both of whom had massive involvements in the win over Germany – shows the excellent depth in their offensive department.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Gonda; Yamane, Itakura, Yoshida, Nagatomo; Endo, Tanaka; Kubo, Kamada, Minamino; Asano

Costa Rica

The only silver lining from the catastrophic defeat against Spain for Eduardo Berizzo’s side is that there are no fresh injury concerns for Costa Rica ahead of the game against Japan.

While the whole team’s performance was below-par, much of the blame was placed on skipper Keylor Navas in goal. The veteran goalkeeper gained international recognition for his heroics at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and played a big role in their qualification this time around.

But PSG’s second-choice shot-stopper’s lack of match sharpness became apparent throughout the game, which made things even difficult for Los Ticos, who were relying on him to be world-class to stand any chance to get out of this group.

The onus will be on Navas again to save his side’s blushes this weekend. He will definitely seek help from Costa Rica’s back four comprising of Kendall Waston, Francisco Calvo, Oscar Duarte, Bryan Oviedo.

Yeltsin Tejeda will sit in front of the back four partnered by Celso Borges. On the flanks, Jewison Bennette and Keysher Fuller will be tasked with the responsibility of providing width to the attack as well as helping them in the defensive phases.

As for the offensive unit, Berizzo will be relying on Joel Campbell and Anthony Contreras, who will have to be prolific with their chances as it’s difficult to see their side providing enough service here.

Proabable Lineup (4-4-2): Navas; Waston, Calvo, Duarte, Oviedo; Fuller, Borges, Tejeda, Bennette; Campbell, Contreras

Key Stats

  • Japan have never lost in four previous meetings with Costa Rica across all competitions (W3 D1), scoring three goals in each of the three wins. This will mark the first World Cup clash between the two.
  • Costa Rica’s only prior FIFA World Cup encounter against an Asian team was in 2002 when they defeated China 2-0.
  • Costa Rica have failed to win their last 7 FIFA World Cup matches (D4 L3), failing to score in five of them.
  • Costa Rica shipped more goals (7) than any other team on the opening matchday of the FIFA World Cup.

Player to Watch

Takuma Asano

Takuma Asano was tipped for prominence by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. But work permit issues meant the Japan international never made an appearance for the Premier League giants. He has been a rollercoaster career since, struggling at Hannover 96 while starring for Partizan Belgrade.

Embed from Getty Images

Now 28, Asano has found his feet at VfL Bochum in the Bundesliga, directly contributing to seven goals to help his team stay afloat in the German top flight. He has an injury-plagued start to the season, but was the hero for Japan against Germany last time out, which could earn him a place up front against Costa Rica.

Despite his small stature, Asano can punish teams and attack defenders bravely if you allow him enough room. His diminutive stature provides him with a low centre of gravity, allowing him to escape opponents with his quick feet. His direct style makes him a speedy and skilled dribbler.

Prediction

Japan 2-0 Costa Rica

The two teams on show on Sunday are as different as chalk and cheese. There is plenty of talent in this youthful and exciting Japanese squad, and they are brimming with confidence off the back of taking down perennial World Cup giants Germany.

It won’t be surprising if they push another heavyweight in Spain in their final game as well. Here, though, It is difficult to look past anything but a comprehensive win for the Asian powerhouses. Their individual brilliance and collective team chemistry will prove too much for the Central American minnows.

To say Costa Rica were terrible against Spain would be an understatement. Not only did their defence fail them, but their midfield and attack were equally as woeful as they became only the second team not to muster a single shot on goal in a World Cup game. They will look to put on a respectable showing to salvage some pride. But Japan should beat Costa Rica comfortably here.

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