When Spain and Germany were paired in the same group after the World Cup draw, along with Japan and Costa Rica, Group E was termed as the ‘Group of Death.’ Spain and Germany were tipped as heavy favourites to qualify. Cut to the present, Japan and Spain advanced, and Germany failed to make the knockouts for a second successive edition. Japan’s group-stage campaign has been nothing short of a sports biopic that keeps the audience on the edge of the seat. The Group A topper shocked the world by beating both Germany and Spain, but itself got shocked after suffering a 1-0 loss against Costa Rica. Nonetheless, Hajime Moriyasu’s men showed that they are to be taken seriously and with respect.
Spain, which qualified as the group runner-up, started its campaign with a 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica and looked like an early contender to top the group. Its game against Germany, as expected, was a closely contested draw (1-1), but the 2010 champion’s real shock came in its last group game as it suffered a 2-1 loss against Japan. Spain had 83 percent of the ball and had 1058 passes, compared to Japan’s 228.
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Germany’s nightmare run in the World Cup continues. After the shock group-stage exit in 2018, expectations were high from Hansi Flick’s team. Germany had a great chance to open its campaign strongly against Japan, a team ranked 13 places below it. But Japan had other ideas — Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano’s goals shocked Germany, and it succumbed to a 2-1 loss. A draw against Spain in the next match meant it needed to beat Costa Rica in its final match and depend on Spain beating Japan. It did beat Costa Rica, but Spain lost against Japan, which knocked out the Germans.
Most counted out Costa Rica after its heavy loss against Spain. However, it bounced back with a 1-0 win against Japan that wasn’t expected, considering the Asian side’s momentum after the win against Germany.
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Costa Rica would have ensured qualification with a win against Germany in its last match. A draw would have been enough if Spain beat Japan. For a while, Costa Rica was on cloud nine after Manuel Neuer’s own goal gave it a 2-1 lead. However, the joy was shortlived as Kai Havertz equalised three minutes later, and Germany went on to win 4-2.
Best goal — Takuma Asano vs Germany
Japan’s Takuma Asano’s goal against Germany not only stands out for its sheer class but also for the effect it had on the match.
Ko Itakura delivered a long ball from inside Japan’s own half, which Asano met. Asano beat Nico Scholtterbeck with a beauty of a first touch and exhibited great control to make a darting run inside the German box from the right. Once he reached the goal, he blasted a shot from the tightest of angles that flew past keeper Manuel Neuer into the roof of the net.
The goal gave Japan a 2-1 lead in the match in the 83rd minute, and it eventually turned out to be the winner.
Best player — Ritsu Doan
Japan’s Ritsu Doan was a relatively unknown name at the start of the World Cup. At the end of the group-stage, it is tough to find a football fan who will not have heard of him.
A winger for the Bundesliga club SC Freiburg, Doan has been one of the best players in the group-stages.
He scored two crucial goals — the first one came in Japan’s opener against Germany, where he scored the equaliser. His second goal came in Japan’s final match against Spain, where he again scored the equaliser.
It should be noted, that both his goals have come at crucial junctures and changed the course of the match. Another interesting thing is that in both matches he scored; he came off the bench. Apart from his goals, Doan has been a constant threat on the flanks with his pace and accurate crossing.
Best match — Japan vs Germany
It was the opening group match for both teams, and Germany started as heavy favourite.
As predicted, Germany took the lead through a penalty scored by Ilkay Gundogan in the 33rd minute. Most predicted that Germany would feed off the momentum from the opening goal and go on to inflict a heavy defeat on Japan, but the Samurai Blue had other ideas.
In the 75th minute, Ritsu Doan pounced on the ball from a Neuer rebound to lash the ball into the net. Unlike Germany, Japan did make optimum use of the momentum it got from a goal and Takuma Asano, in the 83rd minute, brought the roof down with a stunning goal to give his team a 2-1 lead.
Japan survived a late German onslaught to script a memorable World Cup win.