Spain in recovery mode after losing to Japan at World Cup

Dec 1, 2022, 1:05 PM | Updated: Dec 2, 2022, 3:10 am
Spain players leave the pitch at the end of the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Sp...

Spain players leave the pitch at the end of the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Spain, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. Japan won 2-1. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

              Japan players celebrate after defeating Spain 2-1 after the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Spain, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
            
              Spain's Dani Carvajal, right, reacts as Japan players celebrate after their win in the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Spain, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
            
              Spain players react after the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Spain, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. Japan won 2-1 and qualified to the round of sixteen. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe) (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
            
              Spain players leave the pitch at the end of the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Spain, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. Japan won 2-1. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — It’s not how Spain imagined reaching the knockout phase of the World Cup: finishing the group stage with a loss and having to rely on other teams to help it advance.

Spain survived but heads into the round of 16 against Morocco with bruised confidence after losing 2-1 to Japan.

“We have to recover emotionally,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said after the match Thursday. “We will be playing against one of the surprise teams of the World Cup and we will have to be fully prepared. There are only 16 teams left in the tournament and you have to play better. It’s going to be very difficult.”

Few expected Spain would have such a hard time getting through the group stage in Qatar after opening with a 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica. It had also played well against Germany despite conceding a late equalizer, and a draw against Japan in the final group game would have been enough to send Spain through to the round of 16.

But after going into what Luis Enrique called “collapse mode” in a five-minute span after halftime, Spain was in danger of an embarrassing early exit, which it avoided thanks to Germany’s 4-2 win over Costa Rica in the other Group E match.

Players were anxious on the bench knowing that if Costa Rica won the other match, Spain would be eliminated. Luis Enrique said he would “have had a heart attack” had he known that at one point Costa Rica took the lead over Germany, temporarily pushing Spain out of second place in the group.

It was a big scare, and now La Roja is going into recovery mode ahead of its match against Morocco on Tuesday.

“We have to analyze what happened and fix what we didn’t do well,” Luis Enrique said. “I need to try to get the players cheered up again.”

Spain is trying to win its first major title since the 2012 European Championship. It won its lone World Cup trophy in 2010 in South Africa.

By finishing second in its group, Spain avoided 2018 runner-ups Croatia in the round of 16, and possibly world champion Brazil in quarterfinals and Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the semifinals. On its side of the bracket now, Spain has teams like England and defending champion France, which it could meet in the semis.

“It doesn’t matter, the opponents keep changing,” Luis Enrique said. “We wanted to finish with a win and in first place. There’s nothing to celebrate.”

The coach made five changes to his lineup from the 1-1 draw against Germany, bringing in Alejandro Balde, Pau Torres, Nico Williams, César Azpilicueta and Álvaro Morata, who scored in the first half for his third goal in as many matches in Qatar.

Azpilicueta, who was substituted at halftime with a knock on his leg, made the cross for Morata’s goal. Balde was to blame for Japan’s equalizer after losing possession near the penalty area.

“I considered that these 11 were the best ones for this match, I have trust in all of my players,” Luis Enrique said. “But looking at how things turned out afterward, maybe I wouldn’t have picked the same 11. But it’s easy to say it now.”

___

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE- Gene Sykes claps after City Council voted 12-0 to endorse documents at the heart of its plan ...
Associated Press

USOPC: Russian pathway possible, but sanctions must remain

The new leader of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee reiterated the federation’s support for exploring a way for Russian athletes to compete at the Paris Olympics as neutrals, while insisting the current sanctions against the country remain in place. Gene Sykes, who took over for Susanne Lyons as USOPC chair on Jan. 1, wrote […]
1 day ago
Dallas Stars' Jason Robertson celebrates after scoring a goal during the first period of an NHL hoc...
Associated Press

All-Star festivities showcase next generation of NHL stars

New Jersey Devils players watch from the bench often and marvel at some of the things Jack Hughes can do on the ice. “Every game, at least a couple times, I’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, that guy’s amazing,'” forward Michael McLeod said. “He just gets it done every night.” The same goes in Buffalo, […]
1 day ago
Youth team players warm-up ahead of the Black star water polo competition held at the University of...
Associated Press

Ghana water polo grows as sport looks for more diversity

Back at the very beginning, right when the idea of water polo in Ghana started swimming into reality, Asante Prince got out a couple of balls and caps in front of a handful of curious kids. He decided to try a scrimmage, but he had no nets. So they put a soccer bench on each […]
1 day ago
FILE - Austria's Katharina Liensberger speeds down the course during the first run of an alpine ski...
Associated Press

Austrian ski team aims to rediscover its magic at worlds

VIENNA (AP) — Only one skier in the 24-member Austrian squad for the upcoming world championships has won on the Word Cup circuit this season. A star coach left the women’s team mid-January. And “crisis” has become a common word on the ski-mad nation’s sport pages. Has the once dominating “Wunderteam” from Austria lost its […]
1 day ago
FILE - Workers prepare to remove giant Olympic rings from the waterfront area at Odaiba Marine Park...
Associated Press

Tokyo Olympic bribery scandal rolls on; company apologizes

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese company embroiled in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic corruption scandal said Thursday it would strengthen oversight to prevent further wrongdoing. Kadokawa “seriously betrayed public trust,” company president Takeshi Natsuno said. He bowed deeply with two other executives to show remorse in a news conference. Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, the son of the founder, […]
1 day ago
Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) dunks over Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul during the first h...
Associated Press

Murray scores 21 points, Hawks roll past Suns 132-100

PHOENIX (AP) — Trae Young rose up for a 3-pointer in the second half that left his hands way too hard, hurtling toward the basket before slamming off the backboard and through the hoop. Atlanta’s star guard shrugged and ran back down the court with a sheepish grin. Things were going the Hawks way Wednesday […]
1 day ago
Spain in recovery mode after losing to Japan at World Cup