Soccer: 1990 World Cup winner Matthaus expects Germany to beat Japan

Germany legend Lothar Matthaus warned against complacency but voiced confidence in his country beating Group E rivals Japan at this year's World Cup in Qatar.

The 61-year-old former great urged Germany to focus on themselves ahead of their opener against the Samurai Blue on Nov. 23 at Khalifa International Stadium. Spain and Costa Rica also await the four-time winners in the group stage.

"Germany will win against Japan," Matthaus recently told reporters at Al Janoub Stadium, one of eight venues for the tournament. "But it's the World Cup...it has many surprises. You have to work hard for 90 minutes against Japan to gain three points."

West Germany's World Cup-winning captain in 1990 in Italy, the complete midfielder and later sweeper made five straight finals appearances from the 1982 tournament in Spain and boasts a Germany record 150 appearances.

Matthaus said the first game of the successful 1990 campaign, a 4-1 win over a "very good" Yugoslavia side led by the late former Japan manager Ivica Osim and centered around Nagoya Grampus icon Dragan Stojkovic, the current Serbia manager, will be a good case of reference.

"We were thinking about ourselves, not so much about Yugoslavia," he said of the match he scored a superb double in. "Just thinking about our quality, we went into the game with confidence, and I think this is the most important thing."

"The opening game is always special because you think a lot. Have we done everything well? Are we in good condition? How good are Japan at this moment? You start to think, but don't think too much and believe in yourself."

Matthaus acknowledged the impact Japanese players are having on the Bundesliga, although Stuttgart captain Wataru Endo was the only name to come out of his mouth.

"We have a couple of Japanese players in the Bundesliga so we know them. We know the discipline of the Japanese players, we know they are very well organized in the team," he said. "They are technically very well...in Germany we have very good experience with the Japanese players."

Germany suffered a shock early exit four years ago in Russia but Matthaus has seen promising signs from the team since Hansi Flick took the reins last year after the departure of Joachim Low.

Germany were eliminated in the round of 16 at the postponed European Championship last summer, the final tournament of Low's long tenure that started in 2005 and saw them win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"With the new coach I think we have what we were missing in the last four-five years, the togetherness, to work for each other, belief in each other, team spirit," Matthaus said of Flick, who he knows from their playing days together at Bayern Munich.

"What he is doing better than Joachim Low's last years is that he is communicating better with the players. From the same height, face to face, clean talking, he explains his decisions, he is talking openly, and explains the reasons behind each decision."

Tipping Brazil, France, Germany, England, Portugal, Argentina and Spain as the favorites, the Qatar tournament ambassador said the first mid-season World Cup can throw up some difficulties for players and managers.

"I know in Germany, they stop the Bundesliga only one week before the tournament and they have to prepare for the World Cup in five days. Normally when you have a summer World Cup like in the last 50 or 100 years, you always had two-three weeks of preparation," he said.

But Matthaus was also well aware of the positive sides of the unique tournament, ones that should provide for a special occasion.

"The time to play the World Cup is perfect in terms of temperature," he said. "Nobody can say it's too hot or too cold or too much rain or the pitch is not prepared."

"We will have good games, high-level games, the world will follow the biggest sporting event in the world. For this I am happy we can start this in five months' time here in an area where there had never been a World Cup before. I think this area has the right to host a World Cup."

© Kyodo News