Japan and Spain collide at the Khalifa International Stadium this evening in what promises to be an intriguing matchday three contest between Group E’s top two sides.
Luis Enrique’s La Roja are in the qualification driving seat and can even make the next round with a draw, though the Blue Samurai need to cut their way to an unexpected victory to ensure they pip Germany to a place in the knockout phase.
You can find an info-jammed stats pack for this evening’s showdown below which has the lowdown on shots, shots on target, xG, cards, corners and more from the teams’ qualifiers and World Cup group games. Hopefully, the data and my Stats Pack Guide can help to power some profitable bet builders later on.
Alvaro Morata’S two goals in as many games off the bench has earned him a starting berth in attack ahead of Marco Asensio.
Japan hit plenty of the right notes at both ends of the pitch during their qualification campaign in Asia, though somewhat understandably, their numbers have tailed off against tougher opponents in the World Cup.
The Blue Samurai have been hitting 12.5 shots per 90 minutes in Qatar, which is a middling figure for the tournament, however, despite winning the xG battle against Costa Rica by a decent margin (1.05 to 0.13) on matchday two, they lost 1-0.
Japan’s corner count (11) is also worth highlighting and they’ve yet to concede more corners than they’ve won at the World Cup. There are some nice handicap prices available in that direction today.
Spain walloped Costa Rica 7-0 on matchday one, though they retreated back into their shells a little from an attacking perspective against Germany shortly after.
La Roja didn’t blow teams away during their qualification campaign (1.88 goals, 13.90 shots per/90) and the very modest seven attempts and 0.79 xG they lodged against the Germans was a tad concerning.
Spain have only collected one booking in Qatar so far. Only England have picked up fewer and the chances of La Roja advancing on that haul today feel slim.
Player Shots and Shots on Target
Takuma Asano (7.97), Takumi Minamino (3.46) and Yuki Soma (3.33) have all been Japan’s chief protagonists in the shots per 90 department in Qatar, though Takefusa Kubo – who turned so many heads in qualification fixtures – has yet to make much of an impact.
Centre-half Ko Itakura managed to clock one attempt in each of his first two appearances in Group E and the 25-year-old prowess during set pieces could make him an interesting option again today.
The usual suspects have been doing the heavy lifting in attack for Spain at the World Cup. Alvaro Morata, Ferran Torres and Dani Olmo were pivotal figures during La Roja’s qualification journey and they’ve all been impactful in Qatar.
Morata (3.80 shots per 90), Olmo (3.00) and Torres (2.48) have all been posting the kind of figures you’d expect them to, though Marco Asensio (4.06) has been something of a surprise package and continues to revel in the prominent role he’s been given by Luis Enrique.
Player Goals and Assists
Takumi Minamino was a double-figure goal machine for Japan during their qualification run, though the ex-Liverpool forward is struggling to get up and running in Qatar. Junya Ito, who claimed 11 goal contributions in World Cup qualifiers, is another waiting to make a splash.
Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano were Japan’s goal-scoring heroes against Germany on matchday one and that pair alongside creative lynchpin, Daichi Kamada, rank best in a modest bunch for individual xG (0.4 each).
A front three of Dani Olmo, Marco Asensio and Ferran Torres ran riot against Costa Rica in Spain’s World Cup opener, though La Roja needed an intervention off the bench from Alvaro Morata to net against Germany on matchday two.
You should expect most of Spain’s cutting-edge today to be provided by members of that quartet. Three of Spain’s eight goals in Qatar so far were notched by substitutes and they do pack a considerable punch off the bench.
Spain have been averaging a staggering 74.1% possession at the World Cup and Japan should have plenty of chasing, harrying and tackling to get through today. That in turn makes the Blue Samurai your best bet for card candidates.
Right-back Miki Yamane has already been cautioned once in Qatar and he could be up against it again today. On the opposite side, Yuto Nagamoto, who has committed four fouls, is also worth your attention.
Ko Itakura (four fouls, one card) also catches the eye. The 25-year-old likes to defend on the front foot, though his enthusiasm can be exploited by streetwise forwards. Spain have one or two of those in their ranks.
Spain’s Gavi and Sergio Busquets tend to draw their fair share of fouls in midfield skirmishes, though I’m looking a little further forward for possible tackle targets today.
Dani Olmo (four) and Ferran Torres (three) have been fouled seven times between them in Qatar and they can test the mettle of Japan’s fullbacks, Yamane and Nagamoto, today. In the spaces between, a rejuvenated Marco Asensio should face some robust interference from Itakura.
Match-Ups to watch
Miki Yamane vs Dani Olmo
Yuto Nagamoto vs Ferran Torres
Ko Itakura vs Marco Asensio
If the pattern of today’s game runs according to expectations, then the card-earning potential in the Spanish camp should be low. However, if Japan can turn the screw with a flurry of energetic counter-attacks, like they did against Germany, the landscape could shift.
In that scenario, Jordi Alba (two fouls), Dani Carvajal and Sergio Busquets (one card) could be among the players feeling the squeeze. Busquets will be keen to avoid a suspensions-triggering caution if he can, though the 34-year-old won’t shy away from the dirty work in midfield if some is required.
Winger Junya Ito has been fouled twice in group matches in Qatar and the 29-year-old’s dynamism could frustrate Jordi Alba down the Japanese right flank. On the other wing, Takefusa Kubo, who was often clobbered in qualification fixtures, has the technical gifts to unsettle former Real Madrid clubmate, Dani Carvajal.
Elsewhere, Daichi Kamada’s (fouled 0.88 times p/90) eye for an incisive pass from his position at number ten could put him on Busquets’s hit list.
Match-Ups to watch
Jordi Alba vs Junya Ito
Dani Carvajal vs Takefusa Kubo
Sergio Busquets vs Daichi Kamada