Japan on World Cup tenterhooks after Costa Rica loss

DOHA, 28 Nov 2022:

Costa Rica put their Spain rout behind them to beat Japan 1-0, thanks to a Keysher Fuller curler into the top left corner.

Japan goalkeeper Shūichi Gonda got a touch to the ball but it was not enough to prevent the Central American team from gaining the advantage.

The three points keep Costa Rica’s World Cup dreams alive after their poor opening game against Spain, which finished 7-0.

Having beaten Germany in a shock 2-1 win, Japan still have options to qualify for the knockout stages but have yet to face Spain.

Spain hoped to notch its second World Cup group stage victory against Germany, but it took La Roja until the 62nd minute for Alvaro Morata to sink one – only to have Niclas Fullkrug come off the bench to answer back 7 minutes before the end of regulation to salvage the draw at Al Bayt Stadium before almost 69,000 spectators.

The result of the highly anticipated match is that all members of Group E may still be able to get to the knockout stage Round of 16.

Even so, Spain now has four points, with a big goal differential resulting from its 7-0 clobbering of Costa Rica, while Germany has just one point in the group stage so far.

The Spaniards were keen on controlling the rhythm of the match, dominating in terms of ball possession, but they couldn’t seem to craft many chances through the first half and well after the break, when Morata – coming on for Ferran Torres after the intermission – finally hit pay dirt against goaltender Manuel Neuer on a near shot after a great pass from Jordi Alba.

Germany thought it had gotten on the board first but Antonio Rudiger’s header tally on a first-half free kick was invalidated for offside.

Overall, the Germans did not seem to be up to snuff, creating danger only intermittently, but they did step up the pace after finding themselves behind, and ultimately it was striker Fullkrug – sent in to replace Thomas Muller in the 70th minute – who put one away high into the net to beat Unai Simon after Jamal Musiala knocked the ball down within the penalty box and the sub fired it home.

Had Germany lost, it would have been their first opening pair of losses since 1958, having fallen to Japan 2-1 in their debut match. Germany has won the World Cup four times, but were eliminated in the group stage at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Spain, meanwhile, won the 2010 World Cup, defeating South Africa in the final.

Meanwhile, an electric Morocco dealt a blow to Belgium’s World Cup hopes with a 2-0 win over Kevin de Bruyne’s team.

After having a goal ruled out for offside in the dying minutes of the first half, the North African team finally managed a breakthrough in the 73rd minute when substitute Abdelhamid Sabiri fired in a shot from a direct free kick.

Romain Saiss lent a helping hand by blocking Thibaut Courtois’s view of the incoming ball.

Fellow sub Zakaria Aboukhlal sealed the deal for an elated Morocco in injury time.

Although Canada played superbly for the opening stretch of its Group F World Cup match against Croatia at Khalifa Stadium, the Balkan squad clearly had more stamina and skill – cruising to a 4-1 victory that put them atop the group.

Alphonso Davies got the Canadians out in front on a neat header just 66 seconds into play – the first goal ever scored by the team in a men’s World Cup – but in the 37th minute the Croatians began to dismantle them, going up 2-1 by the break and then scoring twice more after play resumed.

With the loss, Canada has no chance to move into the Round of 16 and thus has been eliminated from further advanced-level competition, just like the squad of Qatar, the host nation.

It was Andrej Kramaric scoring in the 37th minute on an assist from Ivan Perisic, and then Marko Livaja seven minutes later that put the Croatians ahead before halftime.

The Canadians, coached by John Herdman, had come out with fire in their bellies after their earlier lost to Belgium, and early on they played great, manufacturing chance after chance albeit finding themselves unable to capitalise on any after Davies’ tally.

As the game wore on, however, Canada’s defence – where it lacks discipline, despite being a team with great physical potential – was pushed on the ropes, opening the way for Zlatko Dalic’s men to take the game in hand, although changes at halftime enabled the Canucks to stave off collapse until Kramaric scored once again in the 69th minute, virtually crushing the life out of the North American squad as key forward Jonathan David was replaced three minutes later.

Lovro Majer scored the final tally for the Croatians in stoppage time.