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Spain took an early lead, but two quick second half Japan goals were enough to win the group.
Spain took an early lead, but two quick second half Japan goals were enough to win the group. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP via Getty Images

Japan upsets Spain, both advance to the knockout stages

Spain took an early lead, but two quick second half Japan goals were enough to win the group.

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The Germans will hang their heads for some time, as even with their 4-2 defeat over Costa Rica today, Dec. 1, Japan’s huge 2-1 victory over Spain at the Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, means they top their group and the former World Champions are eliminated. 

Germany missed out on advancing on a goal difference. If they had scored another, they would have eliminated the Spaniards.

Since their 2014 World Cup triumph over Leo Messi’s Argentina, Die Mannschaft has been eliminated from the World Cup in the group stages for the second consecutive time — 2018 and now 2022. 

Spain was in control for the better part of the first half, as striker Alvaro Morata's header after just 11 minutes gave them the dream start to the fixture. The Spaniards are well known for their possession dominance with their Tiki Taka way of playing — a style of play in Spain that implements short passing, movement, and maintaining possession. 

But the first half possession statistics were even surprising for them, as they had almost 80% of the ball. This did not worry the Japanese, as they only needed a draw to have a chance of advancing. 

Much like a number of other group stage fixtures in this year’s tournament, it was a tale of two halves as Japan came flying back and scored two goals in the first six minutes of the second half. 

The first came from half-time substitute Ritsu Doan, who took a chance from outside the box as Spain were dispossessed in their own half as they tried to play out from the back. The shot proved to be too powerful for goalkeeper Unai Simon to save, despite getting a finger on it. 

Three minutes later, Japan took the lead through a call that will ultimately be the most controversial not just at this year's tournament, but in World Cup history. 

Japan’s Kaoru Mitoma ran down a ball that was heading out before he was able to get enough on it to pass it to Ao Tanaka to finish from close range. The goal was disallowed initially as the replays show the ball rolled out of the pitch before Mitoma got his pass off. However, after a lengthy VAR review, the goal was given. 

It has been a history-making tournament for the Japanese as they are the first Asia, Africa or Oceania team with big wins against former champions at the World Cup — Germany in their opener and now Spain. 

With today’s win, Japan have now advanced out of the group stage and to the Round of 16 in consecutive World Cups. It will be an even bigger feat if they were to advance in the knockout stages, which will be a first time in their history. 

Spain will face a tough Morocco side led by Chelsea and PSG players Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi on Tuesday. Japan will take on 2018 World Cup runner-ups Luka Modric and Croatia on Monday.

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