Japan won Group E in spectacular manner, recording its second win against a World Cup giant in the group round.
After defeating Germany in their first encounter and falling to Costa Rica in their second, the Samurai Blue stunned Spain with a 2-1 comeback victory, advancing both Japan and Spain to the elimination stage. In the round of 16, Japan will face Croatia.
Despite the loss, Spain qualified to the knockout rounds owing to a higher goal difference than Germany, thanks to a 7-0 victory over Costa Rica in the group opener. La Furia Roja will now face Morocco in the round of 16, but after a lackluster showing against Japan, there will be enough to think about.
Still, the headline coming out of the group will be Germany’s failure to make the knockout stage for the second straight World Cup. However, there was some controversy as Japan’s match-winning goal needed a lengthy VAR review to determine whether the ball went out of play before the goal. Replays appeared to show the bottom of the ball past the line, but the review determined that the entire ball did not leave the field of play as the goal was awarded.
But early on, Japan looked to be the more urgent side from the start as Spain tried to lull it to sleep by holding possession. But in the eighth minute, Japan nearly took advantage of a poor Spain clearance as the ball fluttered around the box before eventually finding Junya Ito, whose shot just missed the target as it went into the side netting.
Spain gifts Japan a massive chance to start the match! 👀 pic.twitter.com/rZmpxoMl74— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 1, 2022
In the other Group E game, Serge Gnabry gave Germany an early lead in the 10th minute.
Spain responded a minute later with their own goal, courtesy of lvaro Morata, who scored his third goal of the tournament. César Azpilicueta sent a pinpoint cross into the area, where the Atlético Madrid striker calmly headed home from close range.
The Samurai Blue struck right away after the break to even the score at 1–1 thanks to a halftime sub in Ritsu Doan. Doan, who scored against Germany, took advantage of a bad clearance by Spain keeper Unai Simòn, and sent the chance back toward goal as Simon could only get a hand on the goalbound shot.
Japan continued to shock Spain with a second goal in three minutes. In the 51st minute, Doan was involved once again finding Kaoru Mitoma, whose ball into the box found Ao Tanaka for the goal. However, a lengthy VAR review awarded the goal despite the ball appearing to go over the endline before it was played into the box.
Costa Rica added another remarkable goal in the 70th minute to give Los Ticos a 2–1 lead over Germany. A Costa Rica win and a Spain loss would have seen Japan and Costa Rica advance from the group.
COSTA RICA TAKES THE LEAD 🇨🇷— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 1, 2022
As it stands, Costa Rica is moving on to the knockout stage and both Spain and Germany are eliminated! pic.twitter.com/YY1uYb40jm
But the Costa Rica celebration was short-lived with Germany scoring an equalizer just three minutes later. The 2–2 draw and a Japan win would have seen Japan and Spain through.
As Spain struggled to find an equalizer against Japan, Kai Havertz scored his second goal against Costa Rica to give Germany a 3–2 lead. However, a 2–1 Japan win combined with the Germany win still sent Japan and Spain through.
With the Germany lead, Spain knew that it could play the game out due to its superior goal differential (+6) since it was even on points with Germany (+1 goal differential). While Spain left with the loss, it also had perhaps the more envious knockout stage matchup vs. Morocco as the second-placed team in the group.
In the end, Group E finished with Japan in first on six points, Spain in second on four points and +6 goal differential, Germany third on four points and +1 goal differential and Costa Rica bottom on three points.
Spain XI vs Japan. pic.twitter.com/02MMWwfCju— Get Spanish Football News (@GSpanishFN) December 1, 2022