Two former World Cup winners — Spain and Germany — are the obvious favorites to advance, and their meeting on Nov. 27 is the marquee match of the first round. Stingy Japan has a solid squad and is the more likely of the other two teams to upset the natural order if one of the giants slips up. As for aging Costa Rica, surviving the first round will be an exceedingly tall order.
Everything you need to know about Japan:
Coach: Hajime Moriyasu
Highest finish: Round of 16 (2002, 2010, 2018)
2018 finish: Round of 16
FOX Bet odds: +25000
Key players: Daichi Kamada, Takumi Minamino, Takehiro Tomiyasu
What we’re excited to watch: Japan relishes the underdog role and tends to exceed expectations. In 2018, they survived a group containing Colombia, Poland and Senegal and then gave Belgiumeverything they could handle in the second round. Don’t be shocked if they upset one of their decorated European foes.
What success look like: Making it out of the first round at consecutive World Cups would be an unprecedented accomplishment for the Blue Samurai. Winning a knockout round match for the first time would be even better.
Achilles heel: Scoring. The four forwards on Japan’s 26-man roster have just 10 international goals between them.
X-Factor: Defense. With a back line led by Arsenal center back Tomiyasu and captain Maya Yoshida, Japan is ultra-disciplined and organized defensively, making them extremely difficult for opponents to break down. Teams that don’t get scored on can’t get beat – even by the likes of Germany or Spain.
Three things you need to know about Japan
Alexi Lalas gives us three things we need to know about Japan ahead of the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Shuichi Gonda, Daniel Schmidt, Eiji Kawashima
Defenders: Miki Yamane, Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Shogo Taniguchi, Ko Itakura, Hiroki Ito, Yuto Nagatomo
Midfielders: Wataru Endo, Hidemasa Morita, Ao Tanaka, Gaku Shibasaki, Kaoru Mitoma, Daichi Kamada, Ritsu Doan, Junya Ito, Takumi Minamino, Takefusa Kubo, Yuki Soma
Forwards: Daizen Maeda, Takuma Asano, Shuto Machino, Ayase Ueda
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
Get more from FIFA World Cup 2022 Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more