• SOCCER WORLD CUP

World Cup Group E wide open; Japan coach remains optimistic

Takuya Matsumoto / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Members of the Japan national soccer team leave the pitch after losing to Costa Rica in the FIFA World Cup at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, on Sunday.

DOHA — All four teams in Group E of the 2022 FIFA World Cup can still reach the knockout stages.

On Sunday, Japan (ranked 24th in the world) were bested 1-0 by Costa Rica (31st), while Spain (7th) and Germany (11th) later drew 1-1.

Group E is the only group to feature two former World Cup champions — in this case, Spain and Germany.

Based on the assumption that most opponents attempt to take the initiative, Japan has concentrated on counterattacking play, switching quickly between defense and offense. This strategy, including the use of substitutions, worked well against powerhouse Germany, but failed to pay off against Costa Rica, whose strong defense and slow-passing game caused Japan to lose its rhythm.

Even so, Japan’s record of one win and one loss means the Samurai Blue are still in with a chance of progressing from the group stage for the second consecutive tournament, depending on the outcome of the Spain game on Thursday (early Friday, Japan time).

Victory ensures advancement, but a loss guarantees elimination. In the event of a draw, Japan will progress if Costa Rica and Germany draw, or if Germany wins and Japan has a superior goal difference. The Costa Rica-Germany game and the Japan-Spain match kick off simultaneously.

“From the start, we thought we’d make it out of the group stage after three games,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. “We overcame Germany and we’ve got a good chance to beat Spain.”