Japan scored two second-half goals to overturn Alvaro Morata’s first-half header for Spain and win the group as Germany crash out of the World Cup at the first hurdle.
Morata’s header gave Spain a 1-0 halftime lead over Japan in their final World Cup Group F game on Thursday, a scoreline that would see the Spaniards advance as pool winners.
With Germany and Costa Rica meeting in the other group game and all four sides still in with a chance of making the last 16, Japan and Spain made five changes.
Junya Ito missed an early chance for Japan and they were punished in the 11th minute when Morata rose to meet Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross and head home from close range, shortly after Germany had taken a 1-0 lead over Costa Rica to move into provisional second place in the group.
Japan are the comeback kings
Japan staged another extraordinary World Cup comeback to reach the last 16, overcoming a stunned Spain side who were fortunate to join them 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 Kaoru 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 Ao Tanaka to bundle home from close range
The goal was initially ruled out by the assistant referee who signalled Doan’s cross had gone out of play, but the Video Assistant Referee ruled Mitomo had reached it in time.
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.