Normally among the favourites for any competition they enter, Hansi Flick is determined to restore Germany’s “tournament team” status. Since a poor display at Euro 2004, Germany had made at least the semi-finals of every World Cup and European Championship, until their disappointing group stage exit in 2018 – their earliest World Cup departure in 80 years.
Flick, who took over after Germany’s last-16 loss against England at Euro 2020, has impressed in the top job having registered 10 wins, five draws and just one loss across 16 games. Heading into Qatar, there’s a mix of experience and youth with seven players earning less than ten international caps. Among the youngsters is Jamal Musiala, who will start against Japan. But how things could have been different.
Born in Germany, Musiala moved to England at the age of seven and stayed there until he was 16, coming through the ranks at Chelsea’s academy. At international level, Musiala represented both England and Germany across the age groups, but he was predominantly raised in the Young Lions (from u15s to u21s, with a brief spell with Germany U16s). Given his growth through the England youth setup, the Three Lions will no doubt have hoped to call upon Musiala for the first team at some point, especially as he made his breakthrough for Bayern Munich.
In the end, Musiala decided to represent the nation of his birth at senior level and made his debut in March 2021. But Musiala will forever be indebted to his time with England, admitting the experience inspired his game.
“In the England youth teams you learn different things than you do playing in Germany. I took home many messages. It was a different environment in the England youth setup,” Musiala told reporters.
“They set great store by individual technique and one-on-one play. To play with freedom was the motto at the time. That is what inspired me and will stay with me for all of my footballing life.”
This will be Japan’s seventh World Cup finals appearance. To date, they’ve not gone beyond the round of 16, which Samurai Blue first reached in their home tournament 20 years ago.
It’s a battle-tested squad with only three players aged 23 or below. And no fewer than eight members of Japan’s 26-man squad play their club football in Germany. Among them is midfielder Wataru Endo, who captains Stuttgart and is one of the few survivors from the last tournament.
Of the aforementioned youngsters, Takefusa Kubo is one to keep an eye on. Despite being 21, the Real Sociedad forward has already trained at Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Thomas Müller will be seeking to become the first two-time Golden Boot winner. Germany’s ‘space investigator’ finished with five goals at the 2010 finals and has overall netted 10 World Cup goals which leaves him six behind compatriot Miroslav Klose, the competition’s most prolific goalscorer. Müller, though, has only netted twice for Germany across eight matches in 2022.
Japan boast two centurions in defenders Yuto Nagatomo and Maya Yoshida; the former is also one of two players in Hajime Moriyasu’s squad to have netted more than 10 international goals with Takumi Minamino, formerly of Liverpool, the other to do so. That being said, just one of Minamino’s 17 strikes has come this year. So, Japan may look to Daichi Kamada for final-third inspiration.
Since the start of last season, only Lionel Messi (nine) has scored more goals in Europe (Champions League and Europa League combined) than Kamada (eight) among midfielders. PSG’s repurposed attacking midfielder got off the mark against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in Argentina’s shock defeat. Can Kamada follow suit?