Japan stuns Spain to top Group E, Germany eliminated from World Cup
Japan scored twice in two minutes and 22 seconds Thursday at Khalifa International Stadium to snatch a 2-1 comeback victory over Spain that knocked its heavily favored opponent out of first place in Group E and eliminated Germany from the World Cup entirely.
Japan topped the group with six points after opening the tournament with an upset win over Germany. Surprisingly, its only loss of the group stage came against Costa Rica.
Spain finished second on four points, only ahead of Germany on goal difference.
Germany fought back to beat Costa Rica 4-2 in Thursday’s other match, but the result ultimately made no difference. The four-time world champion needed Spain to either draw or beat Japan to advance to the knockout round.
Instead, Die Mannschaft suffered elimination in the group stage for a second straight tournament.
Japan will next face Croatia in the round of 16 on Monday. Spain will take on surprise package Morocco on Tuesday.
The most chaotic day of the World Cup began with Spain sitting pretty in first place. Alvaro Morata had given La Roja a 1-0 halftime lead, and Germany, racing to a 1-0 lead of its own, had also put itself in a position to advance.
But everything changed in the second half.
Japan flew out of the gates, forcing Spain into a critical turnover that presented substitute Ritsu Doan a chance to equalize. Doan came off the bench to score in his country’s 2-1 win over Germany at the same stadium, and he played the hero again Thursday, flashing a shot that Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon couldn’t palm to safety.
Minutes later, teammate Kaoru Mitoma scrambled to keep the ball in play, and Ao Tanaka outmuscled Spanish midfielder Rodri to bundle home Japan’s second goal. Replays showed Mitoma retrieved Doan’s pass before it crossed the goal line.
Germany, suddenly in need of a goal from Spain to extend its stay in Qatar, watched as its own advantage evaporated. Despite being outshot and outplayed at Al Bayt Stadium, Costa Rica scored twice in 12 minutes to go up 2-1, a score line that threatened to knock Germany and Spain out of the World Cup.
Kai Havertz responded with two goals, and substitute Niclas Fullkrug added another in the 89th minute to restore Germany’s lead and keep Spain on course for the knockout stage.
Luis Enrique’s side, however, couldn’t do the Germans a similar favor.