Japan topped Group E with a victory over Spain to send Germany crashing out of the World Cup, their win tinged with VAR drama as Ao Tanaka’s goal was awarded amid doubts the ball had gone out of play.
Before the tournament, Japan had never beaten a former World Cup winner in the competition. But in the space of 10 days, Japan has now claimed the scalps of Spain and Germany to progress to the knockout stages and book a date with Croatia.
Spain bossed the first half and took the lead into the break via Álvaro Morata’s headed goal 12 minutes in. But Japan hit back after the restart with two quick-fire goals coming in the span of 142 seconds, a period Spain coach Luis Enrique described as a “total loss of control.”
First, Ritsu Doan netted his second goal of the tournament as his shot from range was poorly saved by Unai Simón. Brighton’s Kaoru Mitoma’s lunge to play the ball into Tanaka’s path was then the subject of a VAR review which verified the goal to give Japan the lead.
Much of the remainder of the match saw Japan camped in their own half, but Spain was able to create a golden chance for Dani Olmo to steal an equalizer and keep Germany in the competition, though his 90th-minute strike was hit straight at keeper Shuichi Gonda.
Expected goals (xG): Japan 0.89, Spain 0.55
Man of Match: Ao Tanaka, Japan
Alongside scoring the winning goal to send Japan through, the Fortuna Dusseldorf midfielder won four of his seven challenges, finding 100% success in aerial duels, 50-50s and dribbles defended. He also attempted the most passes for his side.
Best Passer: Pedri, Spain
Japan holds the lowest rate of applied pressures in the tournament at 56.8%, a tactic that allowed Barcelona maestro Pedri to impose his influence, as three of his 15 line-breaking passes were completed through the defensive line, finishing the match with 90% of his 129 passes completed.
Best Challenger: Gavi, Spain
The diminutive playmaker was the joint-most combative player on the pitch along with Hidemasa Morita (11 challenges). But unlike his Japanese opponent, Gavi was far more efficient, winning 75% of tackles and 80% of 50-50s, compared to Morita’s 40% and 25% success rates.
Gonda was the busiest of the keepers on the day, facing 12 shots and saving four, but Simón’s loose pass that led to Japan’s attack for Doan’s equalizer was made worse by his poor handling of the winger’s shot.