- Japan need a win against Spain to cement their place in the Qatar 2022 knockout stage
- Some players on both sides met in the Tokyo 2020 semi-finals last year
- Spain has been a bogey team for Japan in men’s and women’s football recently
The Japanese football fraternity have become all too familiar with their Spanish counterparts over the course of a long losing run in recent times. The question is: come 1 December, can Hajime Moriyasu’s men end that losing streak in their do-or-die final group E game at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™?After a 1-0 reverse in their previous match with Costa Rica on 27 November, Japan needs a win against Spain to progress beyond the group stages.
The sole prior meeting between the two national men’s teams came in a 2001 friendly, which Spain won 1-0. But a look beyond the senior international sides reveals a Spain-Japan rivalry growing in intensity. At last year’s Tokyo Olympics, La Roja shattered the Samurai Blues’ dream of a long-sought-after Olympic medal. And the bitter memory remains all too vivid for the Japanese players, including Takefusa Kubo and Ritsu Doan, who also made the senior World Cup squad.
Japan’s heartbreak came in the semi-finals after Marco Asensio scored a late extra-time goal. But somewhat implausibly, Spain also proved an immovable obstacle for Japan at the most recent editions of the FIFA U-20 and U-17 Women’s World Cups, which took place in August and October, respectively, this year. (Japan finished runners-up to Spain at the former and was eliminated in the quarter-finals by Spain at the latter).
All this has underlined Spain’s reputation as a bogey team for Japan over the past 18 months. Stranger still, the collision course continued when the respective senior women’s national teams were assigned to the same group for the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ next year.
This long hoodoo is one that the Japanese team and fans will be desperate to break in Thursday’s game. And not many will be more fired up to do so than their No. 11, Kubo. The young warrior, whose talent ironically came to the fore in Spain and who has been competing at the higher echelons of La Liga since turning 18, has revenge in his sights. He sat out the match with Costa Rica but is set to play a key role against La Roja.
In a post-match interview, Japan captain Maya Yoshida spoke of wanting to “consolidate defensively, then try and counter”. Spain coach Luis Enrique, however, will have done his homework, and no team will pose a sterner challenge to Japan.
Japan greatly respects Spanish football, which has provided invaluable tactical and technical insights. Moves in recent years by Spanish stars David Villa and Andres Iniesta to Japan’s J-League have also helped it blossom and mature.
That respect, however, will have to be put aside in Thursday’s win-or-bust showdown. Never mind biting the hand that feeds; Japan will need to be at their best to get a result against Spain.
Will the historic hex continue, or will the losing run finally end? All will be revealed on 1 December.