Match report as Japan reach last 16 as Group E winners with stunning 2-1 win over Spain; Alvaro Morata opened scoring but Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka struck back; Japan's winning goal was hugely controversial but VAR ruled in their favour
Friday 2 December 2022 11:00, UK
Japan pulled off another historic World Cup upset as a hugely controversial goal saw them come from behind to beat Spain 2-1 and claim top spot in Group E, with Luis Enrique's side needing goal difference to advance as runners-up ahead of Germany.
Spain were utterly dominant in the first half at the Khalifa International Stadium and looked set to advance in first place after Alvaro Morata headed home his third goal of the tournament (11).
But it all changed in an extraordinary spell after half-time as substitute Ritsu Doan equalised with a shot from the edge of the box (48) and Ao Tanaka completed the turnaround from a Kaoru Mitoma cut-back which initially appeared to have gone out of play (51).
A lengthy VAR check followed the goal, but it sensationally ruled in favour of Japan, the full curvature of the ball not deemed to have crossed the line, leaving Spain, listless in the second half despite their earlier dominance, to sweat on their place in the last 16.
At one point, when Costa Rica went in front in their 4-2 loss to Germany, Spain were heading out along with Hansi Flick's side, but in the end their superior goal difference, thanks to their 7-0 win over Costa Rica in their opening game, ensured they snuck through to knockout stages at the expense of the Germans.
Spain will now face Morocco in the last 16, while Japan, who also came from behind to beat Germany but lost to Costa Rica in a remarkable group-stage campaign, will take on Croatia.
Before all the drama of the second half, there was a totally serene first period for Spain, with Morata's towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta's cross putting them in complete control.
Morata had other opportunities, one from a Nico Williams cut-back and another from a Dani Olmo cross, but the one-goal margin looked sufficient given Spain's complete dominance of possession.
What followed, though, stunned everyone watching, with Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu, whose substitutions turned the game against Germany, again using his bench to devastating effect.
The equaliser came after a poor pass from goalkeeper Unai Simon caused Spain to lose possession deep in their own territory, allowing Doan to unleash a powerful effort from the edge of the box which Simon got hands to but could not stop.
Then, another substitute made a decisive, and ultimately hugely controversial, contribution as Mitoma reached a cross at the byline and cut the ball back for Tanaka to bundle home from close range.
The on-field officials initially ruled the goal out, deeming the ball to have gone out, and despite initial replays appearing to back them up, VAR ruled that it should count, an aerial view later showing the ball had in fact not fully crossed the line.
Spain looked totally shell-shocked from then on, struggling to create clear chances as huge drama unfolded in the other game between Germany and Costa Rica.
At one point, Spain appeared to be crashing out, but Germany's recovery ensured they remained in second place with a goal difference of six to the Germans' one.
Japan finished the game with just 18 per cent of the possession, the lowest share by any winning team at a World Cup since records began in 1966, but the victory, on a breathless night, ultimately sent them through to the knockout stages for a second consecutive finals.
Sky Sports' Gary Neville questioned why television audiences were not shown all the angles of Japan's winning goal afterwards.
He told ITV: "The high cam that is on the line does suggest that there might be some of the ball over the line.
"But from that very first offside goal, Ecuador vs Qatar in game one, I've struggled with it a little bit that we've not been given the correct angles, it just doesn't feel right.
"In the Premier League we see all the VAR cameras, here we don't."
Sky Sports' Graeme Souness added: "The longer they don't show a picture that shows conclusively shows that it didn't go out of play, you're thinking something untoward is going on.
"There are 80 million Germans right now going mad, waiting for a picture that shows that ball didn't go out of play.
"Germany is not a small footballing nation. Why would you create confusion and not want to clear it up immediately?
"Why are FIFA not showing us something that is so controversial?
"Why aren't they showing it to us? Clear it up for us, please."
Spain's Luis Enrique: "We are classified for the round of 16, which was the goal, but I am not happy at all.
"After a match in which the rival was dominated for 80 minutes, but we were the ones who lost. I have nothing to celebrate, I don't celebrate defeats.
"Yes, we are qualified, but I would have liked to be on top of the group and of course now the brackets (of the draw) change and many things are different."
"In five minutes they scored two goals and in those 10 minutes, they completely dismantled us.
"We have entered collapse mode. If they had needed to score two more goals, they would have scored them against us."
I have full confidence in my players. Just 10 minutes of panic are not going to change what I think. My job is now
to lift up the spirits.
"If I had found out [that Costa Rica were at one point leading Germany], I would have had a heart attack."
Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu: "We played against Spain, one of the best teams in the world and we knew before the game that this was going to be very tough and difficult, and indeed it was.
"The players conceded one goal, but they persisted and in very difficult circumstances, they did very well.
"There were many fans who came all the way from Japan, as well as those that stayed behind in Japan. We are gifting this win to the people of Japan and we are very happy about it."
Japan finish top of Group E with six points, meaning they will face Group F runners-up Croata in the last 16 on Monday, with kick-off at 3pm.
Spain finish second on four points, ahead of Germany on goal difference, and will face Group F winners Morocco in the last 16 on Tuesday, kicking off at 3pm.
Costa Rica finish bottom of Group E on three points and, like Germany, exit the competition.