DOHA (Nov 24): Japan stunned Germany 2-1 in their World Cup opener on Wednesday, punishing the four-time champions for not taking their chances after they dominated the first half.
The German team covered their mouths for the team photo before the match in a powerful protest against FIFA’s decision to ban rainbow-themed armbands.
Germany came to Qatar under huge pressure to avoid the disaster of 2018, when they failed to make it out of the group stage in Russia as World Cup holders.
Hansi Flick’s side took the lead through a first-half penalty from Ilkay Gundogan and should have been out of sight after creating a host of chances.
But Japan hung on and equalised through substitute Ritsu Doan in the 75th minute.
Takuma Asano then completed a remarkable turnaround eight minutes later, smashing the ball home to send the Japanese bench and their boisterous fans wild.
To add to the storyline, both Doan and Asano play in the German Bundesliga.
“The players came together as one team, we prepared well and we stuck in there, and that’s what led to the win,” said Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu.
“Lots of our fans have come to Doha and they were behind us pushing us on. I want us to keep a level head after this and look at what we could have done better and look to win the next match.”
Germany’s World Cup future is now once again on the line, with games to come in Group E against Spain and Costa Rica.
“We made it too easy for Japan. I don’t know if an easier goal has ever been scored at a World Cup,” Gundogan told Germany’s ARD TV network.
“This must not happen to us.”
Thomas Mueller told Germany’s Magenta TV it was “ludicrous that we are now standing here with a defeat.”
Japan meanwhile are eyeing a place in the knockout round after a dramatic comeback that scarcely looked possible at half-time.
The Blue Samurai made a positive start, with Daizen Maeda putting the ball in the net as early as the eighth minute only for the linesman to flag for offside.
– German chances –
But it was to prove a false dawn for Japan as Antonio Ruediger headed past the post from a corner, before Joshua Kimmich tested goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda, with Gundogan blasting the rebound over the bar.
Gundogan peppered the Japan goal with shots, with Gonda keeping him out before Maya Yoshida threw his body in the way of another effort.
Gundogan put the Germans ahead after they were awarded a penalty when Gonda tripped David Raum, coolly slotting his kick down the middle.
Jamal Musiala give a glimpse of his immense talent when he turned and flashed a shot over the bar on the stroke of half-time.
Kai Havertz had the ball in the net before the interval, only for VAR to rule the goal out for offside.
Musiala returned to torment Japan after the break, skipping through the defence before blazing over.
The 19-year-old then turned provider, laying the ball off for Gundogan to lash against the post.
Japan brought on livewire forwards Asano and Kaoru Mitoma to try to inject some energy into the four-times Asian champions.
But Germany kept up their pressure and only a string of last-ditch saves from Gonda prevented Japan from falling further behind.
Hiroki Sakai had a golden chance to equalise but blazed wildly over the bar after Manuel Neuer had parried the ball into his path.
Doan showed him how it was done just minutes later, converting after Neuer had palmed away Takumi Minamino’s effort.
Asano then put the Japanese fans in dreamland, racing away before lashing home a shot that Neuer was powerless to stop.
Germany threw everyone forward in a desperate search for an equaliser but it was too little, too late.
“It wasn’t just the players who started the game but also the substitutes who came on and helped us close it out,” said Moriyasu.
“We were able to show our strength. The players did what they needed to get the win.” – AFP