The Japan camp might still be in euphoria following their fantastic opening-day victory against Germany. But the Blue Samurais will have to reproduce their brilliance on the pitch when they take on Costa Rica on Sunday afternoon.
A win for Japan will guarantee them a place in the knockout stages.
Los Ticos can’t afford to drop further points after losing 7-0 in their first match. Costa Rica will also try their best to win and keep their World Cup campaign alive.
Japan started off on the right foot as they pushed Germany back with their high press in the opening minutes of the game.
But the four time world champions composed themselves and grew into the game.
They deservingly took the lead as İlkay Gündoğan converted from the spot. Germany almost took a two-goal lead into the interval, but Kai Havertz’s goal was ruled out for offside.
Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu clearly felt that his team has lost control of the match, so he changed his tactics after the break.
He moved on from the 5-4-1 and deployed a more attacking 3-4-3. Moriyasu was rewarded for his brilliant in-game management with two second-half goals. Ritsu Doan drew the scores level before Takuma Asano dealt the lethal blow.
Japan will want to confirm their tickets to the knockout stage in the Costa Rica game as they will play their final group match against Luis Enrique’s Spain. A win will give them 100% assurance, while a draw will also edge them closer to the threshold.
Costa Rica have played against Japan five times before, but none of those matches were competitive ones.
Ahead of their first-ever meeting in the World Cup, the 2014 quarterfinalists cannot draw inspiration from their head-to-head record versus Japan as they never won against them before. Four matches ended in Japan’s favour and only once Costa Rica managed to salvage a draw.
Costa Rica’s backdrop to this game starkly contrasts their opponents. While Japan revels in the glory of beating one of the most powerful teams in the competition, Luis Fernando Suárez’s men will have to forget the horrors of a 7-0 thrashing and take the pitch to fight for survival.
But Costa Rica can look at Iran to get some belief ahead of the game.
Team Meli responded to their 6-2 loss against England with a magnificent 2-0 win over Wales to keep their knockout stage hopes alive.
The CONCACAF unit must believe they can do something similar against Japan and leave the qualification race in Group E wide open.
Right-back Hiroki Sakai could not finish the game against Germany as he picked up an injury.
So, Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu is expected to occupy the right side of the defence. However, Tomiyasu is not 100% fit either, as he could not train on Thursday. So, Hajime Moriyasu will have to wait to learn what his options are at right-back.
Takuma Asano made a strong case for himself to get more minutes as he came off the bench to score the winner.
Moriyasu might feel tempted to hand him a start against Costa Rica at the expense of Daizen Maeda.
Left-back Yuto Nagatomo was also withdrawn from the pitch because of an injury issue, but the veteran is fit to start against Costa Rica.
Costa Rica will have no injury-enforced change in their lineup. But considering their terrible start to the tournament, Luis Fernando Suárez might bring changes to the first XI.
Kendall Waston could replace Carlos Martinez if Suárez opts for reshuffling the rearguard.
Álvaro Zamora and Bryan Ruiz might get in as well. But Joel Cambell and Anthony Contreras might be trusted again to lead the attack.
We expect Costa Rica to put on a more competitive performance against Japan than they did against Spain.
But it’s difficult to root for the Central Americans against a buoyant Japan side.
We believe Japan will make it two wins out of two with a 3-1 victory.
Date: 27 November
Kickoff: 3:30 PM IST
Venue: Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.