This is Japan’s 7th participation in a World Cup finals. The Japanese only qualified for the first time in 1998. Three times Japan failed in the preliminary round, three times they made it to the round of 16. In 2018 in Russia, the Japanese team caused a big surprise, at least in part, when they led 2-0 at times against the favourites Belgium. In the end, however, the Japanese lost 3-2 to the Belgian players.
The qualification route
In the very lengthy qualifying phase in Asia for the 2022 World Cup, Japan first faced Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Myanmar. All of these matches were clearly won, with Japan scoring an average of 5.7 goals per match (including a 14-0 win over Mongolia). In the second final round, the opponents were Saudi Arabia, Australia, Oman, China and Vietnam. Here, Japan finished second with 7 wins in 10 matches, which was enough for direct qualification. They lost surprisingly against Oman and Saudi Arabia with 0:1 each.
Japan’s best-known players play in Europe’s top leagues. Attacking midfielder Daichi Kamada won the Europa League with Eintracht Frankfurt. Right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu is a regular at Arsenal London, Takumi Minamino gained a lot of experience at Liverpool FC, but is more of a supplementary player there. Wataru Endo, Hiroki Ito (both VfB Stuttgart), Genki Haraguchi (Union Berlin) and Takuma Asano (VfL Bochum) have Bundesliga experience. Takefusa Kubo is a promising winger talent from Real Madrid who was loaned to RCD Mallorca last season.
Hajime Moriyasu took over after the 2018 World Cup, having previously served as Akira Nishino’s assistant. Since then, there have been 52 games under him, 36 of which have been won, with a points average of 2.19. As a club coach, the former international has made a good name for himself at Sanfrecce Hiroshima. His preferred system of play is a 4-3-3.
Shuichi Gonda (Shimizu S-Pulse) – Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal London), Maya Yoshida (Sampdoria Genoa), Hiroki Ito (VfB Stuttgart), Yuta Nakayama (PEC Zwolle) – Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt), Wataru Endo (VfB Stuttgart), Genki Haraguchi (Union Berlin) – Takumi Minamino (Liverpool FC), Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic Glasgow), Takefusa Kubo (Real Madrid)
World Cup 2022
In Group E, Japan will face Spain, Costa Rica and Germany. Due to the obvious superiority of Spain and Germany, Japan only has an outsider’s chance of reaching the last 16 of the tournament. Nevertheless, Hajime Moriyasu’s team should not be underestimated. They have many fast and lively players and have a lot of experience in the top European leagues. One can certainly compare the games of Spain and Germany against Japan with a cup match, where a top favourite meets an ambitious second division team that relies on counter-attacking play. Despite speed, fine technique and experience, however, the Asians’ main shortcoming remains a certain lack of physical robustness compared to the two main opponents in their group. But the match against Costa Rica will not be easy for Japan either.
Conclusion: Japan have the potential to upset one of their favoured group opponents, but overall they lack the necessary stability in the team.
Other teams in Group E: