Japan advanced to the World Cup final 16 as Group E champions, thanks to goals from Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka, after a 2-1 victory over Spain, with La Roja joining them after Germany was eliminated.
With both teams knowing that a win would advance them, Spain wasted no time in taking the lead, with Alvaro Morata heading past Shuichi Gonda for his third goal of the tournament early on.
Spain, on the other hand, failed to capitalize on their massive possession advantage, as Japan turned the game on its head with a quickfire second-half double, Doan shooting home from range before Tanaka bundling in a second.
Spain was on the verge of exiting the World Cup when Costa Rica took the lead against Germany in the group’s second match.
However, Germany’s late comeback in a 4-2 victory guaranteed that La Roja survived a thrilling climax to finish as runners-up.
Junya Ito shot into the side netting after Sergio Busquets’ early blunder, and Japan were punished for that miss when Morata nodded Cesar Azpilicueta’s perfect cross home after 11 minutes.
Dani Olmo and Nico Williams both had shots blocked as Spain kept Japan at bay in a comfortable first half, while Luis Enrique’s side failed to create more chances.
However, Japan substitute Doan needed just three minutes to make an impact after his half-time entrance, unleashing a fierce 20-yard strike beyond Unai Simon to square the match.
Just three minutes later, Tanaka bundled home Kaoru Mitoma’s cross, with a drawn-out VAR review deciding the Brighton and Hove Albion player kept the ball in play.
As Spain spent the remainder of the game camped in Japan’s half, Gonda denied Marco Asensio and Olmo in quick succession, but Hajime Moriyasu’s side produced a tenacious performance to cling on, beating two former World Cup winners to first place in unforgettable fashion.
What does it mean? The comeback kings do it again.
When Japan lost to Costa Rica after a 2-1 win over Germany, supporters could have been forgiven for thinking their team had squandered the opportunity to escape Group E.
Japan, on the other hand, mounted an even more incredible comeback to cement their advance, becoming only the third side in World Cup history to win two different games after trailing at half-time in a single tournament, following Brazil in 1938 and West Germany in 1970.
Meanwhile, Spain will face Group F winners Morocco after having their seven-game World Cup unbeaten streak snapped, and they will need to improve following a disastrous second half.
Samurai Blue’s substitute strikes again.
Doan, a Freiburg attacker, set up Japan’s victory over Germany by leveling the scores, and he wasted no time in doing the same here after replacing Takefusa Kubo at the interval.
His long-range strike gave Japan three straight World Cup goals scored by substitutes, but that streak came to an end when Tanaka blasted Japan ahead just 142 seconds later, amid debate over whether the ball had gone out of play during the buildup.
Passmasters come up short.
Many thought Spain had the best performances of any team in Qatar, taking four points from games against Costa Rica and Germany, but their free-flowing style was effectively stifled by the Samurai Blue, who were more effective and registered the greater xG (1.27 vs 1.12) despite seeing so little of the ball.
Japan had only 18% possession against Spain, the lowest share of the ball by a winning team in the World Cup since records began in 1966.
- For the first time, Japan has advanced to the knockout stages of two World Cup championships.
- Spain has lost their final World Cup group-stage game (excluding the second group stage) for the first time since 1982 (1-0 against Northern Ireland), after winning eight of their previous nine such games (D1).
- Three of Japan’s past four World Cup goals have come from replacements, matching the number of goals scored by subs in their first 20 games.
- Morata scored his ninth goal in just 13 appearances for Spain in major games (World Cup and Euros), trailing just David Villa (13 in 16 outings).
- He also became only the second player, following Telmo Zarra in 1950, to score in his first three World Cup appearances for Spain, scoring his 30th international goal against Japan (his 60th cap).
What comes next?
Japan will face Croatia in the round of 16 on Sunday, while Spain will face Morocco the day before at the Education City Stadium.