After Alvaro Morata put Spain up 1-0 over Germany, his side held that lead for just over 20 minutes, when Niclas Füllkrug leveled the match and forced Spain to settle for just one point. Despite being so close to sitting in a commanding first place, and all but qualified for the round of 16, Spain are now thrust into the thick of a highly intriguing Group E race, where now they need to draw or win against Japan to secure their qualification. As for Japan themselves, they also had a golden chance to qualify after upsetting Germany, but they lost to Costa Rica; there are scenarios where a tie against Spain is enough to get them through, but a win would suit them much better, as it would be a guarantee. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks where absolutely everything is on the line in this World Cup group.
Japan Vs. Spain Odds
In this pivotal matchup, Spain are heavily favored at -240, while Japan is set at +700 to win and the draw is +370. With the goalscoring total of 2.5, the over is a decent favorite at -140 while the under represents interesting value at +110.
Japan Vs. Spain Prediction & Pick
Spain came into this tournament with one big question to answer; who’s going to score the goals? It seemed like they may have had it answered after their 7-0 effort against Costa Rica, but against a tougher opponent, the first 5 of their 6 goalscorers from the opening match failed to get on the scoresheet. Alvaro Morata was the only one to do so, and he did so with a neat finish, albeit due to some shoddy defending and questionable goalkeeping. As they prepare to face Japan, Spain won’t be too concerned with scoring heaps of goals, but 0-0 is never something you plan for, and this issue is still worth thinking about in the bigger scheme of the whole tournament.
Meanwhile, Japan will be stuck wondering just what exactly happened to their attack against Costa Rica. The goal they allowed was surely fluky, so I wouldn’t worry about what has generally been a solid defense, but being held to zero by the defense that looked like a high school side against Spain is pretty troubling. Japan won the possession battle by a good bit, had 5 corners, and outshot Costa Rica by a bundle, but were still unable to produce even one full expected goal; they’ll be looking for better play not just in terms of finishing, but also chance creation, as there were no big chances for their forwards against Costa Rica.
I’ll start with the easier call of the two; the under. I don’t know how three goals would possibly be scored with two teams that have possessed and defended well, but struggled at times to get the ball in the back of the net, specifically given the situation. Spain are the better side, they should be able to dictate the tenor of the match, and that would make it quite lethargic as they will be content to walk away with a draw. That brings us to the tougher pick, the moneyline. Spain are a much better side, which would justify their -240 line, but I don’t think they have much reason to be aggressive. If I had to project one end of the three-way line, Spain would be my wager, but the best value is probably the draw at +370, if you’re okay with exposing yourself to a decent amount of risk.
The Midfield Battle
As I’ve alluded to more than once, Spain are above all else a possession-minded side- possibly the best-suited for that pursuit of all the teams in the tournament. That could serve them extremely well in this match; if they’re able to hold on to the ball, it will be extremely challenging for Japan to find the breakthrough they so need. Luis Enrique has, unshockingly, used the same star midfield in both matches so far, an all-Barca group with youngsters Gavi and Pedri flanking the veteran Sergio Busquets. With this group, they’ve won the possession battle both times out, and by significant margins; they had 64% of the ball against Germany, and a downright silly 82% in the dominant Costa Rica performance. Interestingly enough, Gavi has scored a goal, but none of the three have picked up an assist; an interesting wrinkle to watch going forward. If these three are at their best, it’ll be next to impossible for Japan to have enough of the ball to create the chances they’ll need to advance to the knockout stage.
The Japanese midfield has been something of a moving target, both in terms of nature and of personnel. In their opener against Germany, they ran a 4-4-2 formation, meaning they only had two true midfielders, Wataru Endo of VfB Stuttgart, and Ao Tanaka, who eventually gave way to Freiburg’s Ritsu Doan, who actually scored the equalizer. On that day, Japan created 3 big chances and 1.46 total xG, but were outpossessed by an outrageous 74% to 26%, likely why they switched to a three-man midfield against Costa Rica. The less-offensive approach may have backfired in the shutout loss, however. Endo started again at CDM after a strong showing against Germany, but he was playing behind two new starters, Hidemasa Morita and Daichi Kamada, two more veterans of major European sides. They possessed more of the ball, granted against a much worse opponent, but were of course unable to create attacking opportunities; it’ll be interesting to see what approach manager Hajime Moriyasu takes in this pivotal match.