Japan scored a controversial winner as they staged another extraordinary World Cup comeback to top Group E ahead of Spain and reach the last 16.
Ao Tanaka claimed Japan’s second goal after the Video Assistant Referee ruled the ball had not gone out of play before substitute Kaoru Mitoma crossed from the byeline, even though on first viewing it appeared to have done so.
It proved the decisive moment in a stunning performance against a Spain side who were fortunate to join Japan in the knockout stage.
In a tournament that has been full of shocks, this was perhaps the most dramatic night so far, with Spain left relying on the result of Germany’s game with Costa Rica for them to progress.
All four teams had started the evening with a chance of progressing but with Spain needing only a draw to qualify, they were not expected to need any favours from elsewhere.
La Roja were cruising at the break after Alvaro Morata headed home Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross from close range, but Japan would quickly turn the game – and the whole of Group E – on its head.
The Samurai Blue sent on substitutes Ritsu Doan and Mitoma at half-time and within six minutes of the restart they had both made a huge impact.
Doan equalised with a fierce shot from the edge of the area and, only 142 seconds later, Mitomo retrieved Doan’s low cross and found Tanaka to bundle home from close range in dramatic circumstances.
The goal was initially ruled out by the assistant referee who signalled Doan’s cross had gone out of play, but the VAR ruled Mitomo had reached it in time.
To the naked eye it appeared over the line, but the decision was made that the curvature of the ball was hanging over the chalk, to the delight of Japan’s players.
Things got even worse for Spain when Costa Rica took a surprise lead over Germany moments later, because at that stage they were heading out.
The big screens at Khalifa International Stadium showed the updated group table, to the disbelief of the Spain supporters, and pretty much everyone else here too.
Luis Enrique’s side were in big trouble, and were showing few signs of knowing how to rescue themselves, with only Germany’s late rally sending La Roja through as group runners-up on goal difference.
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Japan face Croatia next
Japan’s reward for a remarkable performance is a tie with Croatia in the last 16, while a relieved Spain side will face Morocco.
This stadium was the setting for Japan’s stunning victory over Germany in their opening game at this tournament, and it clearly inspired them again.
The high-pressing style that undid Germany had unsettled Spain at times in the first half but there were still few signs of what was to come.
Morata appeared set to be the story of the night when he netted his third goal of this tournament, equalling Telmo Zarra’s record from 1950 for scoring on his first three World Cup appearances for Spain.
Japan had other ideas, and tore into Spain from the start of the second half, again refusing to let them settle on the ball as they attempted to build from the back.
Doan started their revival, collecting the ball on the edge of the area after another loose pass forward by Simon, and firing in a thunderous shot that Simon got two hands to but could not keep out.
That sent Japan’s followers wild but more excitement would quickly follow thanks to Tanaka, albeit after a lengthy VAR check.
Spain still had virtually the whole of the second half to stage a recovery, but they lacked either energy or ideas – or both – and rarely threatened Shuichi Gonda in the Japan goal.
It was only the news of Germany’s comeback that allowed the Spain fans to relax in the closing minutes, with the goals that La Roja scored in their opening 7-0 win over Costa Rica proving decisive in sending them through.
Player of the match
with an average of 8.83
Squad number9Player nameMitoma
Squad number25Player nameMaeda
Squad number16Player nameTomiyasu
Squad number8Player nameDoan
Squad number6Player nameEndo
Squad number18Player nameAsano
Squad number11Player nameKubo
Squad number17Player nameTanaka
Squad number13Player nameMorita
Squad number22Player nameYoshida
Squad number14Player nameIto
Squad number15Player nameKamada
Squad number3Player nameTaniguchi
Squad number5Player nameNagatomo
Squad number4Player nameItakura
Squad number12Player nameGonda
Squad number9Player nameGavi
Squad number7Player nameMorata
Squad number26Player namePedri
Squad number2Player nameAzpilicueta
Squad number21Player nameOlmo
Squad number16Player nameRodri
Squad number12Player nameNico Williams
Squad number5Player nameBusquets
Squad number4Player nameP Torres
Squad number14Player nameBalde
Squad number23Player nameSimón
Squad number25Player nameAnsu Fati
Squad number20Player nameCarvajal
Squad number10Player nameAsensio
Squad number11Player nameF Torres
Squad number18Player nameAlba
- 4ItakuraBooked at 39mins
- 22YoshidaBooked at 45mins
- 3TaniguchiBooked at 44mins
- 17TanakaSubstituted forEndoat 87′minutes
- 5NagatomoSubstituted forMitomaat 45′minutes
- 11KuboSubstituted forDoanat 45′minutes
- 25MaedaSubstituted forAsanoat 62′minutes
- 15KamadaSubstituted forTomiyasuat 69′minutes
- 19H Sakai
- 2AzpilicuetaSubstituted forCarvajalat 45′minutes
- 4P Torres
- 14BaldeSubstituted forAlbaat 68′minutes
- 9GaviSubstituted forAnsu Fatiat 68′minutes
- 12Nico WilliamsSubstituted forF Torresat 57′minutes
- 7MorataSubstituted forAsensioat 57′minutes
- 11F Torres
- 25Ansu Fati
- Victor Gomes
Match ends, Japan 2, Spain 1.
Second Half ends, Japan 2, Spain 1.
Attempt missed. Dani Olmo (Spain) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Rodri.
Attempt saved. Dani Olmo (Spain) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Ferran Torres.
Attempt saved. Marco Asensio (Spain) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Rodri.
Attempt blocked. Jordi Alba (Spain) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Substitution, Japan. Wataru Endo replaces Ao Tanaka.
Attempt blocked. Marco Asensio (Spain) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Dani Olmo.
Marco Asensio (Spain) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Kaoru Mitoma (Japan).
Attempt saved. Ko Itakura (Japan) header from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Ritsu Doan with a cross.
Foul by Sergio Busquets (Spain).
Kaoru Mitoma (Japan) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Attempt blocked. Dani Olmo (Spain) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Pedri.
Attempt blocked. Marco Asensio (Spain) left footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Jordi Alba.
Attempt missed. Takuma Asano (Japan) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the right. Assisted by Kaoru Mitoma following a fast break.
Foul by Kaoru Mitoma (Japan).
Ferran Torres (Spain) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Substitution, Japan. Takehiro Tomiyasu replaces Daichi Kamada.
Substitution, Spain. Ansu Fati replaces Gavi.
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