By Nick Mulvaney
DOHA (Reuters) – Spain and Japan started better at the World Cup but fans of both teams will be closing in on Group E with their calculators in hand, but they are still not sure if they will stay in Qatar after Thursday.
Spain are in a much stronger position at the top of one of the tournament’s toughest groups, having followed up their opening 7-0 win over Costa Rica with a 1-1 draw with Germany in a battle of the former world champions.
A draw at Khalifa International Stadium on Thursday would guarantee coach Luis Enrique’s team a place in the round of sixteen, while victory would guarantee top spot in the group.
Japan started the tournament with a thrilling 2-1 victory over Germany, but squandered their advantage with a half-hearted performance against Costa Rica, who clinched a 1-0 lead with their only shot on goal of the tournament.
A draw could also send the Samurai Blue into the last 16 for the fourth time in the last seven World Cups, but Germany can still advance as long as they beat Costa Rica by a sufficient margin.
Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu knows what he wants his team to do but seems less certain about whether he will be able to do it.
“We’re on our way to winning, that’s all we need to think about,” he said after losing to Costa Rica.
“Beating Germany does not mean we can beat Spain, both teams have won the World Cup and we have a lot of respect for them, but we beat Germany.”
The Japanese fans could have been forgiven for some jitters when Moriyasu promised another tactical change against Spain after his conservative streak backfired spectacularly against Costa Rica.
Any group match at the World Cup in which the result is favorable to both teams will always raise the specter of the so-called “Doom of Gijon” that occurred 40 years ago in Spain.
FIFA adopted simultaneous matches in the last round of the group stage specifically to ensure that the confrontation between West Germany and Austria in the 1982 World Cup would not be repeated, as a 1-0 victory for the former ensured the progress of both teams. on the Algerian account.
Another early exit in the first round of the tournament against four-times defending champions Germany might serve Spain well, but Luis Enrique vowed to do everything his team could do to win.
“Let’s not expect,” he said after the draw with Germany. “We will use all our strength and go for victory to secure the lead in the group standings.”
It may only become clear how serious he is about it when his squad is announced, following reports in Spain that he could rest captain and midfielder Sergio Busquets.
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