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World Cup 2022 - Japan 2-1 Spain: Ao Tanaka's controversial goal stuns Luis Enrique's side but both advance

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

The ball appears to be over the line before Japan's Kaoru Mitoma crosses for team-mate Ao Tanaka to give them a 2-1 lead against Spain
Image: The ball appears to be over the line before Japan's Kaoru Mitoma crosses for team-mate Ao Tanaka to give them a 2-1 lead against Spain

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.

Thursday's thrilling finale as it happened

  • 7.10pm UK time – Gnabry gives Germany a fast start against Costa Rica, but they still need Spain to beat Japan.
  • 7.11pm - Morata heads in Spain’s opener. Germany move above Japan in the live table into second place.
  • 8.04pm - Doan drives in an equaliser for Japan. They move level with Germany on points, goal difference, goals scored – but are ahead on head-to-head record
  • 8.06pm - Tanaka bundles in another Japan goal to lead Spain 2-1. Japan move top of group, Spain second and Germany third and going out on goal difference.
  • 8.14pm – Tejeda scores an equaliser for Costa Rica, who go up to third in the table, behind Spain on goal difference. Germany sit bottom.
  • 8.26pm - Vargas puts Costa Rica ahead vs Germany – and incredibly Germany and Spain are going home with Japan top and Costa Rica sitting second.
  • 8.29pm - Havertz almost instantly equalises for Germany. They’re still bottom of the group but Spain move back above Costa Rica on goal difference
  • 8.41pm - Havertz puts Germany back in front. Germany move up to third in the group. They need Spain to equalise against group leaders Japan and they will go above Japan on goals scored
  • 8.46pm – Fullkrug adds another for Germany – but that doesn’t change their situation. They still need a Spain equaliser.
  • 8.53pm - The final whistle in the Spain game leaves Costa Rica and Germany eliminated from the World Cup.

The controversial winner in pictures

The ball appears to be over the line before Japan's Kaoru Mitoma crosses for team-mate Ao Tanaka to give them a 2-1 lead against Spain
Image: The ball appeared to be over the line before Japan's Kaoru Mitoma cut it back to Ao Tanaka for the second goal
The ball appears to be over the line before Japan's Kaoru Mitoma crosses for team-mate Ao Tanaka to give them a 2-1 lead against Spain
Image: Mitoma was meeting a Ritsu Doan cross at the byline
The ball appears to be over the line before Japan's Kaoru Mitoma crosses for team-mate Ao Tanaka to give them a 2-1 lead against Spain
Image: VAR ruled in favour of Japan, saying the curvature of the ball had not crossed the line

How Japan stunned Spain

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.

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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.

Alvaro Morata heads Spain in front
Image: Alvaro Morata scored the opener with his third goal of the World Cup

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.

Neville and Souness question winning goal

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."

Japan's Ritsu Doan, left, celebrates with teammate Kaoru Mitoma scoring his side's first goal against Spain during a World Cup group E soccer match at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Image: Japan's Ritsu Doan, left, celebrates with teammate Kaoru Mitoma

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."

What the managers said

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 players celebrate their equaliser
Image: Japan players celebrate their equaliser against Spain

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."

What does the result mean?

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.

Japan the comeback kings - Opta stats

  • Japan have progressed to the knockout rounds in consecutive World Cup tournaments for the first time, while they've finished top of their group for the first time since 2002.
  • Japan have become the third team in World Cup history to be losing at half time and come back to win two matches in a single edition, after Brazil in 1938 and Germany in 1970.
  • Japan had just 18 per cent possession against Spain, the lowest share of the ball for a winning team in a World Cup match since records began in 1966.
  • Three of Japan's last four goals at the World Cup have been scored by substitutes, as many as they'd scored via subs in their first 20 goals in the competition.
  • Alvaro Morata scored his ninth goal in just 13 appearances at major tournaments for Spain (World Cup and Euros). Only David Villa (13 in 16 apps) has scored more such goals for the country.
  • At 25 years 98 days old, Spain started with their youngest XI in a World Cup match since their 3-1 defeat to France in the round of 16 in 2006 (24y 321d).
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