Japan yesterday stunned four-time World Cup winners Germany 2-1 in a thrilling FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 match at Khalifa International Stadium.
Two second-half goals by super subs Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano eight minutes apart yesterday lifted three-time Asian champions Japan to their first win in Qatar.
After conceding a goal in the first half when Ilkay Gundogan – the Manchester City midfielder – converted a penalty in the 33rd minute, Japan delivered a ferocious counter attack after the break in the Group E clash.
Coached by Hajime Moriyasu, Japan clicked as a unit in the second half when substitutes Doan and Asano combined in superb fashion to script a hard-fought win against a side that has played the most number of FIFA World Cup matches (112).
Earlier on Tuesday, Moriyasu candidly admitted at a news conference that his players had improved their game by frequently appearing for Bundesliga sides over the years.
Yesterday, Japan looked the part as they undid the global football giants.
“At the end they came at us with the full power,” Moriyasu said yesterday. “In the past maybe we would have given up (in such a scenario) but the players have been playing in Germany and Europe they’ve learned so much from that, so we held on,” Moriyasu added.
“United as one, we needed to hang tough until the final whistle went and we were able to grasp our opportunity,” the Japanese coach said.
“We wanted to start aggressively, we wanted to dominate the game but Germany are very strong so we needed to defend persistently and take our chances,” he said.
“In our tactics, we had many options and looked at many scenarios. We knew there was a chance we could go a goal down, we planned for it, we prepared for it.”
After scoring the goals, Doan and Asano celebrated their magical moment with teammates on the touchline as thousands of Japanese fans at Khalifa International Stadium rejoiced in the stands.
With veterans Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer – both appearing in their fourth World Cup editions – Germany looked set to launch their Qatar campaign on a positive note but it was not to be against a side that did not give up even after conceding a penalty in the first half.
In an early sign of aggression, Bayern Munich striker Serge Gnabry charged into the Japan box but a couple of Samurai Blue defenders stayed firm to block the move in the third minute.
Japan retaliated by clinching the first corner in the 5th minute but failed to make any inroads. Three minutes on, Celtic forward Daizen Maeda outpaced his marker Antonio Rudiger and deflected the ball into the net but the linesman quickly adjudged the move offside much to the dismay of the Japanese supporters. Maeda held his hands in despair knowing he had moved a fraction of a second too soon.
Six minutes later, Joshua Kimmich unleashed a powerful shot a little away from the edge of the box but VbF Stuttgart defender Wataru Endo produced a sliding tackle to block the shot heading towards his goal.
In the 16th minute, tall defender Rudiger jumped high over the Japanese defenders but his deflection hit the outside of the Japan net. Four minutes later, Kimmich unloaded a powerful right-footed drive that sailed past a couple of defenders but Japan ’keeper Suihchi Gonda dived to his right to deflect the ball away.
Shortly afterwards Hiroki Sakai – positioned close to Neuer – could not find the elevation on a header following a cross from the deep right flank. Three minutes from the half-hour mark, striker Gnabry found Gundogan who fired a bullet that was saved by ’keeper Gonda.
Soon afterwards David Raum charged into the box after clutching a loopy cross from Kimmich. Raum grabbed the ball and returned back but he was brought down by the Japanese ’keeper in his own box prompting the referee to point to the spot kick in the 31st minute.
Gundogan easily converted the penalty that went to the right of Gonda who chose to dive to his left in the 33rd minute. Despite being sluggish for most part of the first half, Germany were quick to grab the lead when the opportunity arose. With momentum on their side, Niklas Sule found Kimmich with a neat short cross but the Bayern Munich defender saw his shot gobbled up by ’keeper Gonda five minutes before from the first-half whistle, Midfielder Jamal Musiala – on the edge of the Japanese box – sent his right-footed drive sailing above the crossbar in another wasted opportunity to score soon afterwards.
In the dying seconds of the first half, Kai Havertz deflected the ball into the net from close range following a cross from Gnabry a few feet away. The linesman called it a goal but VAR showed Havertz had moved ahead of the Japanese backline. Just seconds later, Japanese ’keeper had deflected a bullet from Kimmich who was on the edge of the box.
In their best chance to equalise, Maeda’s header – on a cross from Yuto Nagamoto – narrowly missed the goalpost to Neuer’s left. Seconds later the two teams walked off the pitch with Muller barely breaking a sweat in the entire first half.
Muller, early in the second half, picked up a loose ball and charged ahead with a Japanese marker in tow. Close to the edge of the box, the German star found Gnabry on the right. Gnabry sneaked into the Japanese box following the cross from Muller but his powerful drive sailed above the crossbar. Muller wanted the ball back but Gnabry went solo. In the 50th minute Musiala – after dodging three makers in the Japan box – sent the ball above the crossbar from close range.
Gundogan was unlucky in the 58th minute when his shot from the edge of the box went through a Japanese defender’s legs but the ball ricocheted off the goalpost left of ’keeper Gonda who had no chance to dive and stop the shot.
Muller, who had not played a full 90 minutes since September, was benched by manager Hansi Flick in the 65th minute after a lackluster show by the German. In the 75th minute, Japan equalized.
Takumi Minamino – on the edge of the German box – slipped in a cross towards Neuer who threw out his left arm and parried the ball which landed at unguarded substitute Doan’s feet. Doan quickly found the top of the net with a bullet from six yards out.
Asano gave Japan the lead with a breathtaking run of about 30 yards following a free kick cross from Itakura in the 83rd minute. Asano charged into the six-yard box while being chased by Nico Schlotterbeck. With the ball to his right, Asano slipped a shot into top of the net with Neuer unable to stop the flick from close range.
Japan's Ritsu Doan scores their first goal in the Group E - Germany v Japan match at Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, yesterday. (AFP)