The Japanese turn the game around as if it were against Germany after the first half. As group winners, they now play Croatia, while Spain face Morocco.
Spain, the favorites, qualified to participate in the round of sixteen of the World Cup in Qatar. The Spaniards gave up a 1-0 halftime lead on Thursday in their final group match against Japan, losing 2-1. The Japanese not only clinched the ticket to the knockout stage, but also won the group sensationally. Vice world champions Croatia await them in the round of 16. The Spaniards are facing the surprise of the Moroccan team.
Japan qualified for the last 16 for the first time in two consecutive World Cup finals. The Asians looked changed after the break in front of a crowd of 44,851 at Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan. Goals from Ritsu Doan (48) and Ao Tanaka (51) turned the game around. Alvaro Morata put the Spaniards ahead with his third World Cup goal (11th).
Spain is spinning
Spanish team boss Luis Enrique changed his starting line-up in five positions with group wins in mind. With César Azpilicueta, Pau Torres and Alejandro Balde, three-quarters of the four defenders were new. Midfield match with Javi, the endangered yellow captain Sergio Busquets and Pedri remained. Midfielder Morata came to the team after two “Joker” goals against Costa Rica (7-0) and Germany (1-1), as did youngster Neco Williams.
The Japanese turned hard again. There were five changes from the disappointing 1-0 draw with Costa Rica, for which team president Hajime Moriyasu took the blame after several changes. However, the coach did not return to his winning line-up from the opening 2-1 victory over Germany. Among other things, Moriyasu put midfielder Wataru Endo, captain of VfB Stuttgart, who was strong during the tournament, on the bench.
The Japanese didn’t have much to offer before the break except for Junya Ito’s attempt to finish after Busquet was fouled (8′). The Spaniards dominated the match, with more than 80 percent possession in the first half and playing no less than 550 passes. One of them – a cross from Chelsea captain Azpilicueta – landed directly on the head of Morata, who didn’t need to be asked twice. The Atletico Madrid striker scored his 30th goal in his 60th international match, his third goal in the World Cup. The 30-year-old was the second Spanish player to score in the first three World Cup matches after Telmo Zarra in 1950.
Murata tested Japan’s goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda (23) again, otherwise the Spaniards would not convert their apparent advantage into scoring opportunities. It was revenge after the break when the Japanese rewarded themselves for their now more aggressive pressing. Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon was forced into a poor pass which resulted in Balde losing the ball. Against Germany, Doan scored just minutes after arriving. However, the shot of the Freiburg Corps would still have been acceptable to Simon.
Japan follows suit
This is not enough: the Japanese followed suit. Tanaka sent the ball into the goal from close range. The ball looked like it had come from behind the line when Kaoru Mituma tapped it in. However, after studying the pictures for two minutes, the video assistant (VAR) gave the blow. In practice, Spain was eliminated from the tournament by a few minutes because Germany was temporarily behind Costa Rica.
The 2010 world champion lacked penetrating power. Even if you settle into the opponent’s half as it was before the break – Japan’s well-positioned defense can no longer be broken. Dani Olmo came close to scoring, but Gonda grabbed it safely (90′).
The Spaniards lost for the first time in their sixth World Cup duel with an Asian team. However, defeat was within reach as far as Morocco, presumably the easier opponent than Croatia, awaits on Tuesday. In addition, the Spaniards may have escaped from the championship branch in this way, which could have brought them a confrontation in the quarterfinals with the record world champion Brazil.
This is now waiting for Japan. On Monday, Japan will try their fourth World Cup finals in 16 years after 2002, 2010 and 2018 against Croatia to go once for the first time. After surprising victories over Germany and Spain – in each case after a deficit – they could be trusted.
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