Japan 2 – 1 Spain
Japan pulled off another historic World Cup upset as a hugely controversial goal saw them come from behind to beat Spain 2-1 and claim top spot in Group E, with Luis Enrique’s side having need a goal difference to advance as runners-up to Germany.
Spain were utterly dominant in the first half at the Khalifa International Stadium and looked set to take first place after Alvaro Morata scored his third goal of the tournament (11).
Thursday’s thrilling final as it unfolded
- 7.10pm UK time – Gnabry gives Germany a quick start but they need Spain to beat Japan.
- 7:11 p.m. – Morata tops in Spain’s opener. Germany overtakes Japan in the live table in second place.
- 8:04 p.m. – Doan equalizes for Japan. They are level with Germany on points, goal difference, goals scored – but ahead on head-to-head record
- 8:06 p.m. – Tanaka regroups in another Japan goal to lead Spain 2-1. Japan take the lead in the group, Spain second and Germany third and exit on goal difference.
- 8:14 p.m. – Tejeda scores an equalizer for Costa Rica, who move up to third in the table, behind Spain on goal difference. Germany is down.
- 8:26 p.m. – Vargas puts Costa Rica ahead against Germany – and incredibly Germany and Spain go with Japan in the lead and Costa Rica in second.
- 8:29 p.m. – Havertz equalizes almost instantly for Germany. They are still bottom of the group but Spain return above Costa Rica on goal difference
- 8:41 p.m. – Havertz puts Germany back in front. Germany takes third place in the group. They need Spain to equalize against group leaders Japan and they will go above Japan on goals scored
- 8:46 p.m. – Fullkrug adds another one for Germany – but that doesn’t change their situation. They still need a Spanish equalizer.
But that all changed in an extraordinary spell after half-time as substitute Ritsu Doan equalized with a shot from the edge of the box (48) and Ao Tanaka completed the turnover after a reduction from Kaoru Mitoma who initially appeared to be out to play (51).
A long VAR check followed the goal, but it sliced sensationally in favor of Japan, the full curve of the ball not deemed to have crossed the line, leaving Spain, listless in the second half despite their earlier dominance, sweating over his place in the last 16.
At one point, when Costa Rica took the lead in their 4-2 loss to Germany, Spain were heading with Hansi Flick’s side, but in the end their superior goal difference, thanks to their 7-0 win over Costa Rica in their opener, ensured they slipped through to the knockout stages at the expense of the Germans.
Spain will now face Morocco in the round of 16, while Japan, who also came from behind to beat Germany but lost to Costa Rica in a remarkable group stage campaign, will face the Croatia.
The controversial winner in pictures
How Japan surprised Spain
Before all the second-half drama, there was an utterly serene first half for Spain, with Morata’s towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross giving them complete control.
Morata had other chances, one from a cut from Nico Williams and the other from a cross from Dani Olmo, but the one-goal margin seemed sufficient given Spain’s total dominance over ownership.
What followed, however, stunned everyone, with Japanese boss Hajime Moriyasu whose substitutions turned the game against Germany, again using his bench to devastating effect.
The equalizer came after a poor pass from goalkeeper Unai Simon caused Spain to lose the ball deep in their own territory, allowing Doan to unleash a powerful effort from the edge of the box that Simon got hold of but couldn’t stop.
Then another substitute made a decisive, and ultimately hugely controversial, contribution as Mitoma reached a cross to the touchline and clipped the ball in for Tanaka to head home from close range.
Officials on the pitch initially ruled out the goal, believing the ball had gone out, and despite initial replays appearing to support them, VAR decided it should count, with an aerial view later showing the ball had not in fact gone completely crossed the line.
Spain looked totally shocked from then on, struggling to create clear chances as huge drama unfolded in the other game between Germany and Costa Rica.
At one point, Spain seemed to crumble, but Germany’s recovery kept them in second place with a goal difference of six to the Germans.
Japan finished the game with just 18 per cent possession, the lowest share of any winning team at a World Cup since records began in 1966, but victory, on a breathless night, eventually sent them to the knockout stages for a second. consecutive finals.
Neville and Souness question winning goal
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville asked why viewers didn’t show all the angles of Japan’s winning goal afterwards.
He told ITV: “The high camera which is on the line suggests there might be part of the ball on the line.
“But since that very first offside goal, Ecuador against Qatar in the first game, I struggled a bit with the fact that we weren’t given the right angles, it doesn’t feel right to me.
“In the Premier League we see all the VAR cameras, here we don’t.”
Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness added: “The more they don’t show an image that conclusively shows he’s not out of the game, you think something untoward is going on.
“There are 80 million Germans going crazy right now, waiting for a picture that shows the ball is not out of play.
“Germany is not a small footballing nation. Why would you create confusion and not want to clear it up immediately?
“Why doesn’t FIFA show us something so controversial?
“Why aren’t we shown it? Clear it for us, please.”
What does the result mean?
Japan finish top of Group E with six points, meaning they will face second-placed Croata in Group F in the Round of 16 on Monday, with a 3 p.m. kick-off.
Spain finish second on four points, ahead of Germany on goal difference, and will face Group F winners Morocco in the round of 16 on Tuesday at 3pm.
Costa Rica finished last in Group E with three points and, like Germany, left the competition.
Japan, the kings of the comeback – Opta stats
- Japan reached the knockout stages at back-to-back World Cup tournaments for the first time, as they finished top of their group for the first time since 2002.
- Japan became the third team in World Cup history to lose at half-time and come back to win two matches in a single edition, after Brazil in 1938 and Germany in 1970.
- Japan had just 18 per cent possession against Spain, the lowest possession share for a winning side in a World Cup match since records began in 1966.
- Three of Japan’s last four World Cup goals have come from substitutes, as many as they had scored via substitutes in their first 20 goals in the competition.
- Alvaro Morata scored his ninth goal in just 13 major tournament appearances for Spain (World Cup and Euros). Only David Villa (13 out of 16 apps) has scored more such goals for the country.
- At 25 years and 98 days, Spain started with their youngest XI in a World Cup match since losing 3-1 to France in the Round of 16 in 2006 (24 years 321 days).