Moriyasu upsets Japan in World Cup 2022
Costa Rica came back from their humiliating 0-7 loss to Spain with a stunner 1-0 win over Japan, upending Group E in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup. The key to their comeback was two-fold, the Central Americans were playing with pride and a “not again” attitude while the Japanese were taking another gamble by substituting five players from their starting lineup in the opening half and then bringing them in slowly in the second half.
Perhaps Japan strategized that if they tired the older Costa Ricans in the first half with the oppressive 90F heat as their aide they could then bring in fresher legs in the second half and pull out another Germany-style win. The two problems with Japanese coach Hajime Moriyasu’s strategy were first, that his team were playing like somnolent dolls in the first half when they could have taken the lead had they been more aggressive with the players they had on the pitch, as it took the Costa Ricans some effort to maintain their poise and keep their minds in the game.
The second problem was that as the opening half progressed and the Ticos felt fully able to compete the nearly identical teams came out for a second half where the Japanese had to overcome their mentally rejuvenated opponents in weather that actually favored the Costa Ricans. Although two subs came in at the 46th minute for Japan the second set came in almost out of need at the 62nd and 67th and by then the Ticos were believing they might get a favorable result. Furthermore, as the substitutions were staggered the Japanese never had the time to fully jell as a working unit and thus looked and played like a patchwork of individuals rather than the cohesive team they had been against Germany.
If Moriyasu’s instinct was that the veteran Costa Ricans, playing two games in five days and meeting Japan in oppressive heat and humidity would thus render the Ticos physically and emotionally spent, his immediate reaction within the first quarter hour should have been “I was wrong.”
The CONCACAF representatives came out with steely resolve if not a spring in their step and the Japanese found themselves unable to do much damage despite having a possession and energy advantage. Japan does not have two full lineups of equally talented players and using several individuals from their second string as starters only served to even the strengths in an encounter that commenced tilted Japan’s way and might have been even more so had they used their starters. Those subs should have come into the game in the first half where a win would have sealed Japan’s progression.
In the 81st minute three consecutive bad decisions by Japanese players on defense who despite having possession were unable to clear their lines, gifted the ball to Costa Rica near the Japanese penalty area. The blunders allowed right wingback, Keysher Fuller, to ghost into the box and loft a slow and well-placed shot at goal where the final Japanese mistake took place.
Keeper Shuichi Gonda, who had played solidly against Germany was caught too far forward from his line when the chipped shot came at him. Then, he mistimed his jump so badly that the ball arrived as his body was going down, forcing him to push his arms and hands upward in a vain attempt to reach the ball already outside his grasp. His hands did get to the ball and pushed it further up, but because he was so far ahead of his net, he simply redirected ball into his goal at a spot a bit higher than it would have otherwise entered.
Goal and game Costa Rica—calamity for the better Japanese team that this time suffered and lost because of their coach’s inability to react to the game unfolding in front of him in real-time and change his original strategy on the fly. Perhaps there had been no Plan B. But, in a World Cup, you play seven games if you make it to the finals and you know from the historical record that 99% of teams have a bad game in that set. Your hope is that your down game comes when it hurts the least. Japan could not afford to lose this game it was their only group must-win. Moriyasu should have planned for a direct and early win against their only group opponent weaker than his team. Now the Japanese have to play for their progression against Spain.
Photo: Japanese Coach Hajime Moriyasu, Shutterstock ID 409318696, by RedCap.