Japan staged its second stunning turnaround of the World Cup when it beat 2010 champion Spain 2-1 on Thursday with two quick-fire goals and advanced to the last 16 along with its beaten opponent.
Going into the halftime break 1-0 down and on course for an early World Cup exit, Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu reorganised his side to give it more attacking bite and within six minutes, the Samurai Blue was ahead.
Ritsu Doan, one of the substitutes, hammered in a shot from the edge of the box in the 48th minute that Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon - whose poor clearance had created the danger - could not keep out.
Three minutes later, Ao Tanaka scored from close range 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, sparking wild celebrations by Japan and its fans when the verdict came in.
Spain had looked in total control in the first half but was suddenly clinging to its chance of staying in the World Cup as Costa Rica and Germany battled out their own drama in the other Group E match.
Alvaro Morata had put the Spaniards ahead when he scored his third goal in three games in Qatar, rising high above Japan’s defence to power a header past goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda in the 11th minute after a cross by Cesar Azpilicueta.
The breathtaking 2-1 win for Japan - which also beat Germany 2-1 after going behind in its opening match of the tournament - meant it topped Group E, followed by Spain in second which finished ahead of third-placed Germany only on goal difference.
Japan will face Croatia in the last 16 while Spain will meet Morocco.
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