Spain may look to its younger players to seal its last-16 spot at the World Cup when it meets Japan on Wednesday, and some of those players including defender Pau Torres will be drawing on their Tokyo Olympics experience to help them prepare.
A number of Spain’s under-23 squad from Tokyo are now in Qatar, and remember their semi-final clash with Japan all too well. Spain won 1-0 and eventually took the silver medal, while Japan lost out in the bronze medal match.
“In the semi-final, we needed to go all the way to extra time to win,” Torres, who played all six of Spain’s games in Tokyo, told Reuters on Tuesday.
The two sides also drew in a friendly before the Games.
“Japan are a very organised team, very consistent in what they do. I always think they have the game under control, they don’t get out of the game until the final minutes,” Torres said.
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“And they are comfortable defending without the ball, they don’t need to feel that they have possession to be comfortable. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Other Spanish players in Qatar who played at the Olympics are striker Marco Asensio, midfielders Pedri and Dani Olmo, and goalkeeper Unai Simon.
After Japan stunned Germany 2-1 in their opening match, they made numerous changes to their side and ended up losing 1-0 to Costa Rica, who had been trashed by Spain 7-0 in their opener.
Torres suggested the side may have let their opening win go to their heads.
“Maybe it was over-confidence, having won the first game, as well as having seen our result against Costa Rica,” the defender, who plays for Spanish LaLiga side Villareal, said.
“We made that match look easy, and then we could see that after all, it wasn’t easy at all.”
Spain could have booked their last 16 spot already but drew their second match against Germany, meaning it all comes down to match number three.
“Against Germany we knew that they could challenge us a bit for possession. We played a bit in a similar way,” Torres said.
“We are perhaps a little more organised when it comes to pressing and we took the lead. After that goal they started to accumulate more people in attack and I think it was a fair draw.”
Following Spain’s opener, coach Luis Enrique said he would rotate his young squad because “he was not going to play with the same lineup for seven games”.
Asked what the key message was in the coach’s statement, Torres -- who has yet to play in Qatar, his first World Cup -- was perfectly clear.
“That we’re going to go all the way to the final, right?” he said with a smile. “Hopefully, whoever plays, we’ll get to play all seven of them. It will mean that we are doing very well.
“I think we can compete against anyone.”
Between tournament duties, the young Spanish players have been soaking up the experience, and not only on the pitch.
“We were lucky that there were four different schedules throughout the day,” Torres said.
“If we trained in the morning, we could watch the midday and afternoon games. We have a room where we can get together, with a big screen to watch the football, and there are always several team mates there,” he said.
“Germany’s defeat against Japan, Argentina’s one against Saudi Arabia show that the level in this World Cup is very high. No matter which team you play you always have to be prepared for everything.”