Four-time world champions Germany kicked off their 2022 FIFA World Cup Group E campaign with a clash against Japan at the Khalifa International Stadium on Wednesday evening (23 November).
Taking a cue from Saudi Arabia’s historic win over Argentina, Japan produced the second upset of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, beating the Germans 2-1. Ilkay Gundogan scored Germany’s only goal from the spot while super subs Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano found the back of the net for Japan.
Hansi Flick’s side enjoyed the lion’s share of the ball in the opening phase of the game, but it was Japan who found the back of the net first. Gundogan lost the ball in midfield, allowing Junya Ito to drive the ball forward. He delivered an inch-perfect low cross to Daizen Maeda at the far post, who beat Manuel Neuer from close range. Unfortunately for the underdogs, the striker made the run way too early and was caught offside.
Eight minutes later, Joshua Kimmich orchestrated Germany’s first chance in their 2022 FIFA World Cup opener. From a corner, he floated a dangerous ball at the far post. Antonio Rudiger attacked it with intent but his header drifted narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
Germany upped the ante past the 20-minute mark and ultimately got the goal they were looking for. Gonda brought down David Raum inside the box, compelling the referee to point to the spot. Gundogan stepped up to take the resulting penalty kick and confidently put it away to give Flick’s side the lead.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup winners started the second half brightly. Two minutes into the half, Thomas Muller fed Serge Gnabry down the right-hand channel. Instead of making use of the options available to him in the middle, Gnabry went for goal himself, clipping the frame of the bar.
In the 51st minute, Germany’s mesmerizing teenager, Jamal Musiala, demonstrated his dancing feet to floor the entire Japanese defense. Unfortunately, he applied too much power to his shot and saw it fly over the bar. Just before the hour mark, Musiala laid the ball off to Gundogan just outside the box. The Manchester City man hit it firmly, but the post came to Japan’s rescue.
In the 70th minute, Japan keeper Gonda made four saves in quick succession, denying Jonas Hofmann once and Gnabry thrice. Inspired by Gonda’s heroics, Japanese winger Ito drew a huge save from Neuer in the 73rd minute. Two minutes later, the underdogs got themselves level with the heavyweights, with Doan slotting the ball in from close range.
In the 83rd minute, Japan completed the turnaround, with Asano superbly bringing down Ko Itakura’s long ball, charging forward, and beating Neuer at the near post. Germany tried to force a mistake out of Japan at the death, but the underdogs held firm to grab a historic win.
Now, without further ado, let’s check out the five German players who failed to live up to the mark against Japan in their 2022 FIFA World Cup curtain-raiser:
#5 Manuel Neuer
Legendary goalkeeper Manuel Neuer did not do much wrong in the 2022 FIFA World Cup opener. He made two fine saves against Japan, delivered two accurate long balls, and completed 51 accurate passes. His only mistake, if one can call it, was not closing down Asano quickly enough in the 83rd minute.
Neuer chose to remain rooted at his near post, choosing not to make himself big or eat the space in front of Asano. As a result, the Japanese forward got all the time in the world to place the ball into the roof of the net.
#4 Nico Schlotterbeck
Germany center-back Nico Schlotterbeck was largely at fault for Asano’s winner in the 83rd minute. Initially, he was slow to read Itakura’s long ball over the top. Then, he shockingly let Asano show him a clean pair of heels. Finally, when he did catch up with the attacker, he failed to outmuscle him and watched him beat Neuer from close range.
The Borussia Dortmund man misplaced seven of his nine attempted long balls, lost four ground duels, committed a foul, and lost possession 15 times. The 22-year-old also failed to pull off either of his attempted dribbles.
#3 Niklas Sule
Traditionally a centre-back, Niklas Sule was deployed as a right-back against Japan. He felt uncomfortable playing on the right, rarely made overlapping runs, and failed to create goalscoring opportunities for his teammates.
At the Khalifa international stadium, Sule did not play any key passes, had no shots on target, lost two duels, and lost possession 10 times.
#2 Kai Havertz
Flick picked Chelsea star Kai Havertz to lead the line against Japan. The forward’s link-up play was on point, but apart from that, he did not offer anything to his team. He was weak in one-on-one battles, failed to lodge even a single shot on target, and was caught offside on quite a few occasions.
On Wednesday evening, Havertz lost four of five duels, lost possession seven times, committed two fouls, and was caught offside thrice. He also misplaced a cross and was dribbled past once before being replaced by Mario Gotze in the 66th minute.
#1 Thomas Muller
One of the most experienced players on the team, Thomas Muller failed to inspire his teammates against the Japanese warriors. He lacked pace, struggled to get into the game, and lost possession cheaply at times. Japan did ever so well to crowd him out, keeping him from even a single shot away.
The Bayern Munich man misplaced two of his three crosses, lost three aerial duels, lost possession 13 times, and completed only 25 passes (73.5% accuracy).