DOHA, December 2
Japan staged their second stunning turnaround of the World Cup to beat 2010 champions Spain 2-1 on Thursday to surge into the last-16 stage along with their beaten opponents and dump Germany out in one of the greatest nights for the Samurai Blue.
Staring at the prospect of an early World Cup exit at halftime, Japan set up a Round-of-16 clash with Croatia — the beaten finalists in 2018 — while Spain had to rely on goal difference to edge out Germany. They now face Morocco.
Japan’s turnaround was built on coach Hajime Moriyasu’s revamp of his side at the break when they were losing 1-0.
On came Ritsu Doan and within three minutes he hammered in a shot from the edge of the box which Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon — whose poor clearance had created the danger in the first place — could not keep out.
With Japan’s noisy travelling fans barely catching their breath, Ao Tanaka scored from point-blank range in the 51st minute, bundling the ball in after the other halftime sub Kaoru Mitoma cut the ball back from the byline.
The VAR system took several minutes to confirm the ball had not gone out before Mitoma’s touch. Replays suggested that a sliver of the ball had not crossed the line and the verdict sparked wild celebrations similar to the scenes that followed Japan’s 2-1 comeback win over Germany last week.
“We played against Spain, one of the best teams in the world and we knew before the game that this was going to be very tough and difficult, and indeed it was,” said Moriyasu. “The players conceded one goal, but they persisted and in very difficult circumstances, they did very well,” he added.
Spain had looked in total control in the first half but suddenly they were the ones clinging to their chance of staying in the World Cup as Costa Rica and Germany battled out their own drama in the other Group E match.
Germany won 4-2, a margin of victory that was not big enough to keep them in the tournament.
Alvaro Morata had put the Spaniards ahead when he scored his third goal in three games in Qatar, rising above Japan’s defence to power a header past goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda in the 11th minute after a cross by his former Chelsea teammate Cesar Azpilicueta. — Reuters
No one expects us to win. So let’s shock the world. —Mathew Leckie, Australian forward
All the opponents are complicated. We know it as well as anyone. —Lionel Messi, Argentina captain
2 Four-time champions Germany were eliminated at the first stage of the World Cup for the second time in a row.
224According to Opta, both Rodri (115) and Pau Torres (109) completed more passes — 224 in total — in the first half than Japan did as an entire team (89).
17.7 The Samurai Blue pulled off the victory with only 17.7% possession — the lowest for a winning team in recorded World Cup history — against a shell-shocked Spain side.
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