Netherlands vs Japan

Netherlands vs Japan Preview: A Clear Case Of Past Against Present

At this exact stage of the 2015 World Cup, Japan beat the Netherlands 2-1 and went on to reach their second consecutive final. Asako Takakura’s side are under no pressure to repeat the feats of their predecessors; after all, the two teams have followed vastly divergent trajectories since then.

The Dutch had qualified for that knockout round as one of the four best third-placed teams; they set up this 2019 re-match – a clear case of past vs present in the sport – by topping their group through an emphatic win. The former world champions are building a team for the future, while the reigning European champions are looking to graduate from their status as dark horses at the biggest stage, hoping to transition from pretenders to the throne to genuine contenders.

Knocking out Japan this early would be considered quite an accomplishment, considering the fact that the Netherlands are yet to prove themselves at this level at the World Cup. It should be kept in mind that this is only their second appearance at the finals, but expectations and aspirations have changed considerably since their debut four years ago. It does help that they have useful experience in a knockout environment: they won every knockout fixture by multiple goals at the 2017 European Championship on the way to lifting the trophy. Read More

Japan vs England

Japan vs England Preview: A World Top 10 Clash With History Too

When England faced Japan four years ago in their World Cup semifinal in Canada, the Lionesses lost the tie, heartbreakingly, through an own goal in the 92nd minute. The stakes aren’t quite as high this time around – it is ‘only’ the group stage, and both teams have already progressed into the next round – but it is not a complete dead rubber.

Victory against Japan in the SheBelieves Cup in March, despite it being a friendly tournament, and the manner in which they secured it will no doubt have given Phil Neville’s side confidence ahead of their meeting in Nice. Now, after narrowly defeating Scotland and overcoming Argentina’s attempts to frustrate them, England should be well-prepared for their final test after these two difficult fixtures.

Neville pointed out that “Japan struggled to create chances against Argentina but we didn’t”. The South Americans held the former world champions to a goalless draw, in which Asako Takakura’s side looked every inch the team in transition they were thought to be. A much more composed performance against Scotland served as a timely reminder of their class, encapsulated by Mana Iwabuchi’s fine finish, although they could do with some ruthlessness to match the levels of dominance. Read More

Argentina vs Japan Preview

Argentina vs Japan Preview: Lack of experience to cost La Albiceleste

To say Argentina’s road to the World Cup was rocky would be an understatement. They were already treading on dangerously uneven territory when the long-winded route started to present obstacles at every turn, each of them incremental in the level of fatality and casting a semi-permanent shadow over their hopes of navigating it successfully.

Even before a third-placed finish in the 2018 Copa América hindered their chances of direct qualification, there was a bigger battle taking place outside the confines of a football stadium. Following long-standing issues with the federation regarding their (lack of) support, the players went on strike, seeking better pay and working conditions.

Argentina were so underfunded that they did not play a single international match nor had any staff after the 2015 Pan American Games through to the end of 2017. That was when they regrouped, and through the Copa América they overcame Panama in a rugged Concacaf-Conmebol play-off which finished 5-1 on aggregate. And so, after a 12-year absence, Argentina have returned to the world’s biggest stage. Read More

World Cup 2018, Last 16 Review

While we had been producing daily reviews during the group stage, in the first knock-out round we had writers covering every match so it wasn’t necessary. You can find our ‘Round of 16’ collection here, and we’ll just take a quick look at some of the overall top performers here.

The Sergios dominated at the top of the charts; Ramos of Spain earned the most points in total, whereas Aguero of Argentina topped the points per minute ladder.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed something in Ramos’ dashboard – namely a penalty scored in the shootout. These go into the players’ tallies, so anyone whose side didn’t settle their tie in 120 minutes can have a bit of an advantage here.

Unless they miss that is. Right, Jordan?

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Belgium 3-2 Japan: Martinez saved by stunning subs

Belgium managed to become the first side since West Germany in 1970 to recover from a 2-0 deficit in the knockout stages as they beat Japan 3-2.

From the get-go, Japan started the game extremely brightly which took the Belgians by surprise. They held onto the ball well and created a number of chances with their high energy passing and dribbling.

Belgium looked very depleted and slow on the ball, struggling to find the right ball in the final third. When they did get their chance Romelu Lukaku scuffed his lines yet again, missing a tap-in from five yards out when the ball got tangled in-between his legs. The first half finished 0-0 in a rather disappointing fashion.

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World Cup 2018, Day 15 Review: Pyrrhic victories

For our final round up of the group stages, let’s do something a little different. Rather than focus on the top performer from each of the four matches, we’ll take a look at the main man in each of our four categories. If they happen to have all been from the same game then so be it. Read More

World Cup 2018, Day 11 Review: Defenders lead the way

Day 11 saw the second round of group games draw to a close, and it did so with a bevy of goals. The top points scorer on the day was England’s hat-trick hero, Harry Kane. Yet as he scored two goals from the penalty spot and knew nothing about his third, it doesn’t feel right to overly highlight his contribution here.

The next in line was also an Englishman though: John Stones.

As well as scoring two goals from set-plays, Stones also won a penalty (though it could’ve been given for fouls on him or Kane, in truth), and he also made a ‘spine’ of important defensive contributions as we can see in the chart. Read More

Quintero vs. James: the Colombian issue

Maybe the greatest surprise of the day was not Japan beating Colombia (which was the first time they beat a South American team in the World Cup), but the absence of star man James Rodriguez in the initial XI of the Cafeteros.

With Juan Quintero playing James’s functions, we expected a Colombian team working the ball, valuing possession and being less vertical on offensives transitions as usual.

But the red card to Sanchez at the beginning of the match pushed Quintero to play as a “regista”, close to the defensive line and making long ball passes to connect with the attack.

We can see this in his first half heatmap and pass map from OPTA. Quintero was making correct connections with the right side, where Juventus forward Cuadrado moves and allows good passing lines. There was not the same accuracy on the left side, with Izquierdo.

Maps from OPTA

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World Cup 2018, Day 6 Review: Lack of Lewandowski costs Poland

We’ve now seen every team appear at least once at the 2018 World Cup, and it could be argued that England have been the best so far. Weird eh?

Anyway, the last teams to join the party in Russia make up Group H. There’s an article on Colombia’s performance here, so we’ll just take a quick look at Japan.

It’s never easy to play with 10 men, let alone for 87 minutes, yet Colombia were perhaps the better side in the opening 45 minutes. The fact that Eiji Kawashima, the Japanese goalkeeper, was the top defensive performer in the first half is evidence enough of that.

Football makes fools of us all, but no sooner had the BBC commentators berated the performance of Yuya Osako then he became the game’s key player. He scored the winner, but also made a vital defensive block too. Osako also created a couple of chances, and was a worthy man of the match.

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