Lots of emotion and confusion have taken over some teams as the group-stage matches ended not so long ago. Japan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, South Korea, and Cameroon have defied the odds against world-class teams such as Argentina, Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, and Brazil. Football fans across the globe celebrate these underdogs, but they are left in confusion as to how they managed to pull it off or what we can expect from them in the future.
Do these scores point to a lurking change as new international teams take over the top spots, or do they demonstrate a growing weakness in the teams that have dominated the game for years?
Generally, based on form, we should lean toward the latter explanation. These defiant teams have no consistent string of victories besides Japan: Tunisia’s only success was against France, Saudi Arabia’s only win was against Argentina, and the same for South Korea’s match against Portugal.
Let’s take Cameroon’s victory over Brazil as a case study. Having already secured qualification to the round of sixteen, the Coach of Brazil made a strategic change to the squad to conserve fresh legs for the knockout stage. This proved wise as Brazil secured a 4-1 victory over South Korea last night. So, Cameroon’s victory over Brazil was detrimental to Cameroon, yet their victory reaped no results as they won the battle but lost the war.
But one underdog team had produced a string of incredible victories until last night. Even though Japan had reached the Round of 16 in 2018, this year was different. They topped Group E, defeated both Germany and Spain, and were close to proceeding to the quarterfinals until Croatia defeated them in a penalty shootout last night.
Let us try to analyse Japan’s world cup performance this year. A common explanation for Japan’s performance was the tactical abilities of their manager: Hajime Moriyasu. While Morisyasu led Japan to victory against two top dogs of football, we seem to be at a loss to explain how Japan lost 1-0 to Costa Rica. One glaring problem with Japan in this match was that they struggled to utilise their possession advantage and made late defensive errors. These problems could be seen against Croatia last night. Despite their ability to create chances for themselves, the team found themselves unable to finish it.
In an interview, Japanese midfielder Ao Tanaka said ‘All the players [at the World Cup] are monsters, so I also want to become a monster, come back and win the title.’ This attitude mounting over the next four years, coupled with Japan’s performance this year, is a recipe for positive expectations. This year has marked a change in what we can expect from them. We will see a more excellent fan base and investment because of their triumphs in this world cup.
Just as Japan’s supporters admirably swept up the Qatari stadiums after their team’s matches, we can expect their team to sweep up any future challengers with a spectacular improvement in their form going forward.
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