Joy for Japan but Germany's worst nightmare! Winners, losers and ratings from another World Cup upset
All hail the underdogs! The World Cup loves an upset, and after Saudi Arabia's humbling of Argentina on Tuesday came another result to send shockwaves around the world, as Japan stunned Germany 2-1 in their Group E opener on Wednesday.
The four-time winners had looked in complete control in Doha, leading courtesy of Ilkay Gundogan's first-half penalty and missing a host of chances to make the game safe.
But everything changed during an incredible eight-minute spell, as first Ritsu Doan fired Japan level, following up after Manuel Neuer had pushed out Takumi Minamino's low shot, and then, with seven minutes of the 90 remaining, Takuma Asano brilliantly pulled down Ko Itakura's pass, held off Nico Schlotterbeck and fired high into the roof of the net from an acute angle.
Japan held on, leaving Germany facing the prospect of a second successive group-stage exit after their harrowing experience in Russia four years ago. Indeed, Hansi Flick's side face Spain on Sunday knowing a defeat would likely eliminate them.
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Talk about getting it right. Talk about making a difference with your substitutions. Talk about making yourself a national hero. Japan's head coach could hardly contain his joy as the final whistle sounded here, and no wonder. His part in this remarkable comeback could hardly have been greater. With his side 1-0 down and his goalkeeper, Shuichi Gonda, having to work overtime to keep them in the contest, Moriyasu knew he had to change things. He had to gamble. He did so, and boy did it pay off, as four of his five substitutes combined to produce one of the great World Cup upsets. Three of them teamed up for the equaliser, Brighton's Kaoru Mitoma playing in Takumi Minamino, the ex-Liverpool forward, whose shot was pushed out by Manuel Neuer for Ritso Doan, another sub, to fire home. Then came the second sucker punch, centre-back Ko Itakura clipping a straight ball over the top of a flat-footed defence for Takuma Asano, who brought it down superbly, held off a meek challenge from Nico Schlotterbeck and, with the angle prohibitive, lashed the ball into the roof of the net to seal a famous comeback, and what could well be a career-defining triumph for their 54-year-old coach.
Who said top-level football was getting more and more predictable? Twenty-four hours after Messi's misery, we were treated to another seismic shock as Japan, 24th in the FIFA world rankings, upset another of the pre-tournament favourites with another quite remarkable second-half turnaround. Just like Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, this was a well-earned triumph. Yes, Japan had to ride their luck a little, yes their woodwork was rattled and yes their goalkeeper had to make a few saves at 1-0. But how could you not admire their energy and fighting spirit? How could you not enjoy their courage, the way they committed bodies forward and put pressure on their more vaunted opponents? You can pick the bones out of the German performance, for sure, but take nothing away from the victors. Yet again, we saw that every [under]dog has its day.
Whatever happened, this was likely to be a result engineered in Germany. Eleven of the 22 starters ply their trade in the Bundesliga, and in the end it was two more who came off the bench to clinch the win for Japan. Doan has been part of a Freiburg side which has started the season superbly, the 24-year-old having joined from PSV in the summer. As for Asano, well, Flick's defenders should have known all about him, the 28-year-old having had spells with Stuttgart and Hannover before joining current club Bochum in 2021. His record there is modest, to say the least, but he won't care about that right now. This is the biggest night of his life.
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In this most controversial of World Cups, the Germany team may just have provided one of the defining images. As Flick's team lined up for its pre-match photo, each of their 11 players placed a hand over their mouth, a simple but effective message to FIFA, the tournament's organisers, who earlier this week threatened to sanction any player who chose to wear the OneLove rainbow armband in a game.
A statement from the German FA, released just after kick off, read: "With our captain's armband, we wanted to set an example for values that we live in the national team: diversity and mutual respect. Be loud together with other nations. This is not about a political message: human rights are non-negotiable. That should go without saying. Unfortunately it still isn't. That is why this message is so important to us. Banning us from wearing the armband is like banning our mouths. Our stance stands."
It is hard, despite all the talk of "focusing on football", to avoid the political backdrop to this tournament, and the issues arising from it, and so credit must go to the German players, even if it may have sent an even stronger message had Manuel Neuer, the captain, worn the One Love armband and taken whatever punishment came his way.
Oh dear. After all the talk of learning from past mistakes, this was a worryingly familiar start to the tournament for the Germans. Having been stunned by Mexico in Moscow four years ago, this time they succumbed to an even more damaging defeat, one which already puts them on the brink of elimination from the tournament. Flick, who looked shell-shocked at the final whistle here, knows a defeat to Spain on Sunday would almost certainly send them home, and what a catastrophe that would be for the former Bayern Munich boss, who was supposed to usher in a new era of success having replaced Joachim Low last year. His team didn't play too badly for an hour, in fairness, but they were found wanting in both penalty boxes, unable to kill the game off at 1-0 and unable to stand firm as Japan asked questions in the final 15 minutes. This was the first time they had lost a World Cup game in which they had led at half time since 1978, and they could have no complaints at the result. A serious improvement is needed if they are to avoid the same fate as in Russia.
The bloodline of great German strikers is a long one, but it looks like their lack of a true, killer No.9 is going to cost them at this tournament. We have seen the struggles Chelsea have had building a cohesive attacking unit around Havertz, and it looks as if the same is happening at international level. The 23-year-old may have scored the goal which clinched the Champions League for his club in 2021, but his record generally is poor. Twenty seven goals in two-and-half-seasons does not an elite forward make, and while there is more to his game than pure numbers, here again we saw the limitations of the former Bayer Leverkusen man. He left the field having failed to register a single shot on goal – he carelessly drifted offside when finishing off a chance in the first half – and having had only three touches in the Japanese penalty area in 79 minutes – as many as Niclas Fullkrug and Mario Gotze, who played for only 11. It's harsh to pin the blame on one player, of course, but for a nation whose World Cup successes have been built on players like Gerd Muller, Jurgen Klinsmann and Miroslav Klose, Havertz feels a pale imitation.
Germany Ratings: Defence
Manuel Neuer (5/10):
Good save to deny Ito at 1-0, but his defence couldn't save him when he pushed out Minamino's shot soon after. Beaten at his near post, albeit by a fine finish, for the winner.
Niklas Sule (4/10):
No real attacking threat from right-back. Equaliser came down his side, and he played Asano onside for the winner.
Nico Schlotterbeck (4/10):
Rash with his positional play and didn't look comfortable whenever Japan put him under pressure.
Antonio Rudiger (6/10):
Strong and quick on the cover, the Real Madrid man was the best of the German defenders.
David Raum (6/10):
Gave good width and won the penalty from which Gundogan opened the scoring. Given a tough time in the second half.
Joshua Kimmich (6/10):
Fine pass to create the opportunity which led to the penalty, and had his side in control for the first hour. Missing in action as the game got away, though.
Ilkay Gundogan (7/10):
Got away with an early error in possession but was prominent thereafter, repeatedly popping up in dangerous positions and staying ice-cool to give his side the lead from the penalty spot. Hit the post in the second half and was generally a class above. Germany lost a lot when he went off.
Jamal Musiala (6/10):
Some lovely touches to link midfield and attack. Almost scored one of the goals of the tournament, but blazed over.
Thomas Muller (7/10):
Neat and tidy and found plenty of space throughout. Good driving run to create chance for Gnabry.
Serge Gnabry (6/10):
Hit the woodwork early in the second half and had three more efforts saved by Gonda.
Kai Havertz (4/10):
Work-rate unquestionable but where was the threat?
Subs & Manager
Jonas Hofmann (6/10):
Missed a chance to kill the game off at 1-0.
Leon Goretzka (5/10):
Looked off the pace and cumbersome.
Nicklas Fullkrug (6/10):
Came on as Germany chased the game.
Mario Gotze (6/10):
On late, could not repeat his 2014 heroics.
Youssoufa Moukoko (N/A):
On in stoppage time.
Hansi Flick (5/10):
The manager's worst nightmare. His substitutions made his team weaker and his defence looked shaky throughout. Flick and his players are now facing an embarrassing first-round exit.