Be brave. For most people, the fact that Germany and Spain will be out of this table is a predictable conclusion. Except recent World Cup history is not all polished. Yes, Germany won the tournament just two editions ago. They were also kicked straight into the trash in the last group stage, and eliminated in the Round of 16 at the last Euro. Spain have played two knockouts in their last three World Cups, losing both, since winning them in 2010. It feels like a resurgence at Euro 2020(1) as they reach the semi-finals. and unlucky to be eliminated on the penalty spot To Italy. But this is Spain, which has a reputation for being knocked out early in a tournament that is still more recorded in history than a world power. And Germany can be anything.
So if we want a real defeat in the group stage, Japan Seems like a pretty good bet. There are two faulty favorites above them, and they have clear plans for how to play that they can always come back to, which can cause chaos. You might remember it from episodes like, “Totally stomped in the United States in September.”
You will hear more about how Japan plays than players actually do it in this tournament. If Red Bull has a national team (it may not be long until they do the way things are going), it will probably play like Japan. Japanese press. And press. And press. They play with a 4-2-3-1 formation, and the four forward players will make it terribly difficult for any team trying to play from the back. Which you can easily see Germany and Spain insist on doing.
Japan wants chaos, as there may not be a more direct team in the league. As soon as they win the ball, they leave the field. It wasn’t quite Loyola-Marymount in 1990, but it was close. Japan played with speed and took advantage of the larger space they found when they were able to rotate the ball up the pitch. Which they do better than most anyone in the field, despite the caveat that those numbers have piled up in the Asian qualifiers, are hardly the strongest of the teams.
People who use this hair-burning method may be names that fans recognize. Takumi Minamino has rarely come on from the bench at Liverpool over the past few years and things have not been much better in France with Monaco this season. But he is still the mainstay of the national team and has 10 goals in qualifying. Daichi Kamada has been Frankfurt’s horror during last year’s Europa League and so far in both the Champions League and Bundesliga. Junya Ito may not be as familiar, as he has only just moved from Genk in Belgium to Reims in Ligue 1 this year, but has had four goals and one assist so far this season. . Takefusa Kubo was another choice for a three-man attack behind a striker, and he gave the US a lot of headaches in that friendly.
That pressure is hampered by a rather tough defensive midfield, with Stuttgart’s Wataru Endo and Hidemasa Morita, who have moved to Sporting Lisbon this season. They are the sharp end of the trap, as they snap tackles in midfield in the hope of quick passes and forward rotations.
That’s not to say there aren’t some flashing lights on the dashboard. Defense can be a touch on the old side. Maya Yoshida 34. Hiroki Sakai at right-back 32. Yuto Nagamoto, who may not be the starter, 36. Japan’s aggressive style of attack leaves a lot of space behind if penetrated, and you usually don’t want to be older than the chasing player.
Of course the big check engine light, who will score? Japan doesn’t have a “damn” scorer, and if they succeed in harassing or getting Spain and Germany to foul, it won’t matter if you don’t convert. Kamada can attack from midfield. Minamino has an impressive goalscoring record for his country but recent form has been inconsistent.
It looks like Celtic’s Daizen Maeda will be called up first for the number 9 role, although his Celtic teammate, Kyogo Furuhashi, has more targets but was not picked for the Japanese team at all. But hey, anyone can be hot, right? Thinking must be that Japanese tactics will open up enough opportunities for any hitter to score just the right amount of goals, and Maeda could be that hitter. We shall see.
Of course, Germany may have the same problem. There’s a good chance Kai Havertz will start at the top of their squad, except he’s the one who started for Chelsea there and all the Chelsea supporters are screaming about how they never started. can now score. Havertz is a real freak in that it is impossible to understand his position. He’s not really a striker, he’s not really a reverse winger, nobody plays with a 10 if it’s even certain that he can do it full time, and he He’s a bit light to be a full-time midfielder. However, he is so incredibly talented that no manager can abandon him.
And Die Mannschaft (they don’t really want to be called that anymore but it’s nice not to say) will need goals, because this defense is not good. The last time we saw them, they conceded three goals to England, with Dortmund duo Niklas Süle and Nico Schlotterbeck at centre-back sore. And no one has ever confused Dortmund with stability in defence. Antoine Rudiger has returned from injury but perhaps not enough for him alone.
It is good for Germany that the defense is very well supported both at the back with goalkeepers Manuel Neuer or Marc-Andre ter Stegen and in front with midfielders Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka. The hot new youngster at Munich’s Jamal Musiala will likely be the third there, with Ilkay Guduogan sure to come off the bench.
But the road ahead can go either way. There’s Havertz and Leroy Sané, who sometimes feel like he must be one of the most dangerous attacking players in the world and sometimes you just can’t find him with Heimdall. Serge Gnabry is solid enough, Thomas Muller looks old in the starting lineup, and a lot of experience behind that is Dortmund duo Karim Adyemi and Youssoufa Moukoko. It’s no surprise that Mario Gotze can recall into this slot due to its purely wildcard nature. They can go in any direction.
Spain…hey, look, another team we’re not so sure about is coming from! Alvaro Morata is here again to confuse and shock. What does Dani Olmo do for you? He doesn’t play much for Leipzig at the moment. Other options won’t catch on, but then again showing up at a major tournament without a recognized and in-form striker is the thing for Spain.
At the very least they seem to be transferring the rest of the team from the previous generation, where Sergio Busquets can expect only support for Rodri, and Barca stars Gavi and Pedri occupy two 8th places. There are many. more choices, like Carlos Soler or Marco Llorente. This is probably the strength of the team and will cure a lot of diseases. Wingers like Ferran Torres or Ansu Fati or Nico Williams or Yeremi Pino can certainly provide flares for the defence, even if there’s no one in the midfield to finish them off. Certainly playing wide and high on the field is a good plan against Japan if Spain can bring themselves to be more direct than their history. But then that was the thing of coach Luis Enrique at Barcelona. Like the other two teams described so far, you can see an 11-year-old come here together and leave… or just go home.
They might have to deliver a lot of fireworks, because this defense is old and has a lot of bends. Cesar Azpilicueta, Jordi Alba, Aymeric Laporte and Dani Carvahal are still here. If it’s about passing it on to the next generation, the likes of Hugo Guillamon, Eric Garcia and Pau Torres will have to do it for the first time on this stage.
Their Euro run was instructive, as they accumulated 16.6 xG and scored 13 actual goals, 10 of which came in two games. Anyone who says they know what Spain will do here is lying to you.
Costa Rica were able to save their qualifying campaign last year with four straight wins in Ocho, including beating Canada and the US at home (though both essentially qualified) and then topping New Zealand in the playoffs. Keyler Navas is still here and ready to steal a point somewhere. However, Costa Rica’s problem in qualifying is that they depend on a lot of professionals and that is essentially true of this squad, with more than half over 30. Their last friendly saw They unleash some fresh blood in Anthony Contreras, Daniel Chacón and Jewison Bennette. But that’s a bad sign when it’s AARP crew or freshmen. Feels like a learning experience for later.
The coach is most likely to receive a red card
Luis Enrique is the chalk, based on what we already know about him. But agree with Hansi Flick, as there has been tension with him and his players as he eliminated a large number of them at Bayern to take this job and he may just want to trigger. fast if things go south.
If it’s just about aesthetics, Japan wins this group.
Wednesday, November 23 – Germany v Japan (8 a.m. EST), Spain v Costa Rica (11 a.m. EST)
Sunday, November 27 – Japan v Costa Rica (5am EST), Germany v Spain (2pm EST)
Thursday, December 1 – Japan v Spain, Germany v Costa Rica (2pm EST)