Wow... just wow! Spain winners, losers & ratings as La Roja ride their luck to set up Morocco last-16 showdown on a night that belonged to Japan

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Spain lost 2-1 to Japan despite leading at half-time but still made it through in second place, setting up a last-16 tie with Morocco

Football is never as simple as it looks.

In a World Cup group containing two former winners of the illustrious prize, alongside two nations who are largely considered minnows in the game, the very real possibility that the two former winners could go out was simply incomprehensible.

But alas, that reality came to be. At least for a while.

Spain strolled into half-time with a 1-0 lead and looked comfortable. However, a rally from Japan saw them burst into a 2-1 lead after the break thanks to the iconic Ritsu Doan and a rather controversial strike from Ao Tanaka.

Fair or not, Japan had a lead against the 2010 world champions, having already beaten the 2014 champions in Qatar. And with Germany stuttering against Costa Rica elsewhere in Group E, there was a (very) brief moment where both Japan and Costa Rica were advancing at the expense of Spain and Germany.

Kai Havertz fired in for 2-2 to ensure that didn't happen, which ultimately spared Spain's blushes as it ensured they progressed to the knockout stages, albeit in second place. Germany would end up winning 4-2, but needed a favour that never came from the Spaniards in order to progress themselves.

La Roja couldn't find a way through and fell into their old, toothless ways against a Japan outfit that you can't help but love, sending Germany out of the World Cup in doing so. Here are GOAL's winners and losers as Spain stutter into the last 16.

  1. The Winners
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    The Winners

    David de Gea:

    Somewhere in Manchester, De Gea is sat feet up on the couch, Christmas decorations up, hot drink in hand, Spain firmly not on the television, with a wry smile sat across his face.

    La Roja's approach under Luis Enrique is total football, and it doesn't take a genius to understand that De Gea is extremely limited with the ball at his feet. Even Erik ten Hag has already figured it out. All it takes is watching him attempt a lobbed pass to his full-back once or twice.

    However, what he can do is save - frequently - and regularly bail out a side under pressure. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but De Gea absolutely doesn't put his young full-back under unnecessary pressure with that pass and he almost definitely saves Tanaka's strike.

    Enjoy your Christmas, David.

    Ritsu Doan:

    A modest 2022-23 campaign for SC Freiburg so far doesn't reflect on Doan's World Cup campaign with Japan, where he has quickly become a hero for the national team.

    The 24-year-old bagged in their tournament-opening victory against Germany, playing a key part in one of the shocks of the World Cup. And if that wasn't enough, he came off the bench and wasted no time in firing Japan ahead against Spain.

    This is Doan's world, and we're all just living in it.

    Alvaro Morata:

    The epitome of 'I told you so...'

    Morata has spent pretty much the entirety of his career as the butt of the joke, or the scapegoat for when things are going wrong. And there's some reason for that - he hasn't always been the prolific forward many expected him to be.

    But he's also been over-hated tremendously, and his form for Spain is a reminder of that. Three goals in as many games at Qatar 2022, the latest of which was a beautiful, poacher's effort.

    Little shuffle in the box, get between the defenders and stick your head on it. No need for chance after chance. Pick that one out. Spain's unsung hero. That's 30 goals in 60 caps now. Not bad. Not bad at all!

  2. The Losers

    The Losers

    Chelsea fans:

    Azpilicueta finding the half space and putting the ball on a plate for a red-hot Morata. What could've been at the Bridge.

    When Chelsea signed Morata in 2017, excitement levels were high. But the Spaniard fell victim to the number nine curse in his first season, and what followed was a dismal few years in English football.

    Morata never found his best form, despite coming across as a likeable figure. Everyone wanted it to work, though, and knew there was talent there. Watching him head home thanks to an assist from a Chelsea club legend would've tugged on fans' heartstrings a little to say the least - especially as they've failed to resolve their striker dilemma in the time since.


    The further Spain go in the World Cup, the more Xavi winces at the television screen.

    Every 90 minutes the all-Barcelona midfield trio completes for La Roja is another glass of wine poured by La Blaugrana's manager, merely in fear that one of his three most prized assets picks up an injury that could derail their season.

    Barcelona, for all their recent pitfalls, have several key players propelling Spain to what could be a sensational World Cup campaign. But that means they could all drop like flies due to injury and fatigue after the tournament.

    And when they're trying to topple Real Madrid in La Liga and face two legs of football against Manchester United in the new year, you could understand his concern.

    Alejandro Balde:

    A rough night at the office for the teenager, who will no doubt learn from it and come back stronger.

    All seemed well in the first half. Spain were in cruise control and Japan were letting it happen. A stern half-time team talk completely shifted the balance, though, and it caught young Balde off guard.

    His inexperience suddenly showed in abundance. Sure, he was put in hot water by his goalkeeper as Japan equalised, but in the Spain setup, he is expected to deal with that pass.

    He was then turned and twisted into oblivion for their second goal, as the ball flashed along the box from his flank. Balde was clearly flustered.



    Where do we even start?

    Germany took the lead against Costa Rica, before being pegged back. Remarkably, they then fell behind and were resigned to going out alongside Spain, in an upset of gargantuan proportions.

    Hansi Flick's side - for their many faults - showed their resilience and quickly drew level thanks to Kai Havertz, before taking the lead again and ultimately ending up winning 4-2. However, victory wasn't enough to see them through to the knockout stages for as long as Japan led Spain.

    For all their efforts in trying to get back into the game and doing so, Germany crashed out of the tournament due to the giant-killing Japan defeating another previous winner of the World Cup. Absolutely astonishing.

  3. Spain player ratings: Defence
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    Spain player ratings: Defence

    Unai Simon (4/10):

    Goalkeepers should not be this cool with the ball at their feet. The key thing with being good in possession as a goalkeeper, however, is that you must earn the right to it. Simon can play all the passes under pressure he wants, but he has to save Doan's strike. Poor.

    Cesar Azpilicueta (7/10):

    Rolled back the years with a perfectly placed cross that earned him an assist early doors. With Japan concerned about getting caught out, the veteran had more room to enjoy his game in and thrived on it. Suited the occasion.

    Rodri (8/10):

    Being able to deploy this guy at centre-back is quite the cheat code. Not only can you rely on him to do all of his defending duties brilliantly, he also adds another layer of technical excellence in the first phase of play. Absolutely imperative to Luis Enrique's plans.

    Pau Torres (5/10):

    In a side where being endlessly comfortable in possession is the bare minimum, it's obvious when someone isn't quite up to the same level. Add in the fact that Torres is playing next to one of the most press-resistant players in football, and it's clear to see how he stands out as the weaker link.

    Alejandro Balde (4/10):

    His inexperience showed the minute Japan ramped up the pressure after the break. Was put under too much pressure by his goalkeeper for the equaliser, but still could've done better. Skinned alive as Japan took the lead.

  4. Midfield
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    Sergio Busquets (6/10):

    A few scary moments where he was caught in possession or beaten for pace which showed his limitations, but Spain's control over the game suited Busquets for the most part. By no means perfect, but did his job.

    Gavi (5/10):

    Not his finest hour. Gavi played an important role in the first half in pinning back Japan with his positional play, but was nowhere near influential enough on the ball. Faded as the game progressed and was hooked as a result.

    Pedri (7/10):

    Tidy display from the 20-year-old, who demonstrated his range of passing, supreme press resistance and his physical attributes to help out Busquets when needed. Constantly provided an angle for Barcelona team-mate Balde, too, which was important. Mature beyond his years.

  5. Attack
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    Nico Williams (5/10):

    Not quite his night. Struggled to get into the game and didn't seem to get to grips with the well-drilled nature of Luis Enrique's Spain setup. Lacked the cutting-edge quality they needed as the game drew on.

    Alvaro Morata (7/10):

    Excellent movement and footwork inside the box to generate the space for a shrewd header. Morata at major tournaments in the Spain shirt is a different beast. A surprise to see him taken off.

    Dani Olmo (5/10):

    A more subdued performance after two previously impressive outings. Couldn't get into the game and lacked the same quality and power to his play that has dazzled audiences in previous fixtures.

  6. Subs & Manager
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    Subs & Manager

    Dani Carvajal (3/10):

    Came off the bench, conceded twice and got ripped to shreds virtually every time he was one-on-one in the wide areas. In a Spain squad littered with youth and talent, their pool of right-backs is worryingly shallow.

    Ferran Torres (5/10):

    Did not affect the game as Luis Enrique would've hoped. Torres has looked bright in flashes in Qatar, but for the most part has underwhelmed; a similar story to the one he's writing at Barcelona.

    Marco Asensio (6/10):

    Asensio added more energy and punch to Spain's attack, but at the expense of a threat between the goal posts that was there with Morata.

    Jordi Alba (6/10):

    Wise from the boss to bring on the veteran for young Balde, who had endured a tough time of it.

    Ansu Fati (6/10):

    A shame that Luis Enrique didn't trust Fati to go on and change the game from earlier.

    Luis Enrique (5/10):

    Luis Enrique rotated his side, but respected Japan and still fielded an XI that should've got the job done. While his side should've put the game to bed in the first half, it's hard to blame the manager for their capitulation and Japan's subsequent upturn in form after the break.