Japan stun Spain to reach round of 16 on top
Japan completed a spectacular second-half comeback to defeat Spain 2-1 and advance to the World Cup quarterfinals as group winners on Thursday.
As a result of Germany’s victory over Costa Rica in Group E’s other match, Spain joins Japan in the round of 16, albeit only on goal differential.
Alvaro Morata’s header gave Spain the lead after just 11 minutes, and the 2010 champions finished the first half with nearly 80% of the possession. Two goals were scored within the opening six minutes of the second half by Japan, who knew they needed at least a draw to have a chance of advancing.
Ritsu Doan scored the opening goal in the 48th minute from outside the box after Spain were caught playing out of the back and goalkeeper Unai Simon failed to make a sufficient stop to keep it out.
While Spain was still reeling from that unexpected turn of events, Japan assumed the lead under questionable circumstances.
Prior to Kaoru Mitoma cutting it back for Ao Tanaka to score from close range, the goal appeared to have been disallowed as the ball appeared to have rolled out of play. However, following a VAR review, the goal was awarded, altering the group’s dynamic.
At that point, a Costa Rica victory against Germany in the other group match would have eliminated Spain from the competition. However, due to Germany’s victory, Spain advanced despite failing to get an equaliser against Japan.
On Tuesday, Spain will face Morocco in the round of 16, while Japan will meet 2018 champions Croatia on Monday.
“Spain are one of the best teams in the world and we knew before the game that this was going to be very difficult, and indeed it was,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu told reporters.
“But the players persisted and they persevered and they turned the tide of the game. Everybody was excited that we were able to play as one again.
“There were many fans who came all the way from Japan, as well as those that stayed at home. We are gifting this win to the people of Japan, and we are very happy about it.”
Japan has already created history in Qatar. They are the first team from Asia, Africa, or Oceania to defeat several past World Cup champions in the same tournament after defeating Germany in their opening match.
And for the first time in World Cup history, Japan has advanced to the round of 16 in consecutive tournaments. They will attempt to make history by advancing past the round of 16 for the first time.