11/30 04:03 CST Spain faces Japan looking to seal last-16 spot at World Cup
Spain faces Japan looking to seal last-16 spot at World Cup
By TALES AZZONI
AP Sports Writer
DOHA, Qatar (AP) --- After conceding late to miss out on a victory against
Germany, Spain finds itself with some work left to do against Japan to
guarantee its spot in the round of 16 at the World Cup.
It doesn't need much, though, as a draw on Thursday will be enough, and even a
loss may allow La Roja to advance depending on the other Group E result between
Germany and Costa Rica.
Japan doesn't have it as easy, but a win will guarantee the Japanese a place in
the knockout stage for a second straight time. It would be the first time Japan
advances past the group stage in back-to-back tournaments. If Japan loses,
though, it will head home no matter what. The Japanese opened their campaign
with a surprising win over four-time champions Germany before losing to Costa
Rica. They were eliminated by Belgium in the last 16 in Russia.
Spain, which conceded an 83rd-minute equalizer against Germany, may also go
home with a loss if Costa Rica beats Germany or if the Germans win big to
overcome Spain's goal difference after La Roja's 7-0 opening win over Costa
A victory at Khalifa International Stadium will guarantee Spain first place in
the group, and keep it on track for a possible matchup with five-time champions
Brazil in the quarterfinals. Spain enters the final round with four points, one
more than both Japan and Costa Rica. Germany has one point.
"We are not thinking about our opponents in the knockout rounds," Spain
midfielder Koke Resurreccin said. "We need to beat Japan first and then we'll
see which team we'll have to play against. If it's Brazil in the quarterfinals,
so be it, and we'll try to prepare for it as best as possible."
Germany's chances of staying alive in Qatar will largely depend on Spain
winning its match against Japan. Then a victory over Costa Rica would be enough
for the Germans.
What may not help Germany is the fact that Spain coach Luis Enrique is expected
to rotate some of his players after making only one change from the first to
the second game --- Dani Carvajal coming in for Csar Azpilicueta in the right
Teenager Gavi, who started in the first two matches, trained separately from
the group after the 1-1 draw with Germany because of a knock on a knee. He was
expected to be available for Thursday's match but was not likely to start.
Another midfielder expected to be rested is 34-year-old Sergio Busquets, the
only remaining player from Spain's World Cup-winning squad in 2010. Striker
Alvaro Morata, who scored a goal in each of the first two matches after coming
off the bench, could get a spot in the starting lineup against Japan.
Japan could see Ayase Ueda and Junya Ito playing together in attack from the
start for the first time.
The under-23 squads of Spain and Japan met in the semifinals of the Tokyo
Olympics last year, when Spain advanced before eventually losing to Brazil in
the final. Several players from those squads made their senior teams in Qatar,
including Marco Asensio, who scored Spain's winner in extra time in the
semifinal against Japan, and Japan's Takefusa Kubo, who plays for Real Sociedad
in the Spanish league.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and