World Cup Group E: Japan face tough task to advance to knockout stage

Samurai Blue have it all to do in Qatar after being drawn in the same group as Germany and Spain

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At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Japan became the first beneficiaries of the fair play rule, progressing from the group phase ahead of Senegal after receiving fewer yellow cards, having finished with identical points, goals scored and goals against.

Considering they face Germany and Spain in Qatar, the Samurai Blue could require another remarkable set of events if they are to make it out of the group stages for the fourth time in seven attempts.

However, Hajime Moriyasu’s side showed in qualification that they are able to turn up when it matters.

After losing two of their first three matches in the third round of Asia qualifying, Japan then went on to win their next six before drawing their final match and finishing comfortably ahead of Australia to take the second automatic qualifying spot.

Japan's Takumi Minamino under pressure from Tunisia's Bilel Ifa during the international friendly on June 14, 2022 in Suita, Osaka. Getty

A 2-0 win over the Socceroos in the penultimate match made sure of this, with Kaoru Mitoma scoring a brace.

Junya Ito, who joined Stade de Reims from Genk in the summer, proved to be the difference for Japan as he scored in the first four wins of that run, including a brilliant strike against Saudi Arabia after setting up Takumi Minamino for the opener.

Since securing their qualification for the World Cup, Japan lost 3-0 to Tunisia in the Kirin Cup final but then went on to beat South Korea on their way to winning the EAFF E-1 Football Championship.

In Qatar, they will look to be tight at the back and spring into life with swift counter-attacks helped by their aggressive wingplay, hoping to secure one of those coveted top two spots.

Manager: Hajime Moriyasu

Star player: Junya Ito

One to watch: Ao Tanaka

World Cup finals: 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018

Fixtures: Nov 23 v Germany; Nov 27 v Costa Rica; Dec 1 v Spain

Updated: September 28, 2022, 8:45 AM
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