A day after Saudi Arabia upset Argentina, Japan registered the second shock at the 2022 FIFA World Cup by stunning Germany 2-1. The Samurai Blue recovered from a goal down to beat Hansi Flick's men in their Group G opener on Wednesday (November 23).
Ilkay Gundogan scored from the spot in the first half to put Germany in the lead before substitutes Takuma Asano and Ritsu Doan helped Japan to a comeback win at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar.
The four-time world champions dominated possession from kickoff. They looked the more likely side to open the scoring before they won a penalty following Shuichi Gonda's foul on left-back David Raum. Gundogan stepped up and made no mistake from the spot to put the European giants 1-0 up. They almost went into the break with a two-goal advantage when Kai Havertz netted from close range, only for VAR to rule out the goal for offside.
Japan began the second half with intent and began asking questions of the German defence. Shuichi Gonda pulled off four incredible saves to keep his team in the game. That would prove decisive minutes later, as Manuel Neuer parried Takumi Minamino's cross-cum-shot into the path of substitute Ritsu Duan, who slammed home from six yards put to make it 1-1.
Buoyed by their equaliser, the Blue Samurai began attacking in numbers and were soon rewarded for their tenacity. Asano brought a long ball under control, stood up to Nico Schlotterbeck's pressure and beat Neuer at the near post, burying the ball into the roof of the net to put Japan into the lead. Despite late pressure from the European giants, Japan held on to register a memorable win.
It marked Germany’s third defeat in four World Cup games and their second straight against an Asian side, following their defeat to South Korea in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
On that note, here are five hits and flops from a nail-biting Group E clash:
#1 Flop - Serge Gnabry | Germany
Despite lighting up the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, Serge Gnabry looked like a shadow of himself.
He was wasteful in possession, took shots from poor positions and missed three very good chances in the space of a minute before Japan mounted their comeback.
#2 Hit - Wataru Endo | Japan
Up against Germany's mighty impressive midfield, Wataru Endo stood his ground and came out with his head held high.
The VfB Stuttgart captain snapped at Germany's heels, breaking up their play and giving Gundogan and Joshua Kimmich a torrid time in the middle of the park.
#3 Flop - Nicolas Schlotterbeck | Germany
Despite being heralded as the next great German defender, Nicolas Schlotterbeck played like an amateur.
He struggled to deal with the pace of Japan's defenders, gave the ball away many times and was outmuscled by Takuma Asano for the goal that sealed Japan's win. The 22-year-old will need to do better or risk getting dropped from Hansi Flick's playing XI.
#4 Hit - Takuma Asano | Japan
Despite coming on as a second-half substitute, Takuma Asano turned the game on its head. He was tenacious and hard-working and moved across the lines well to evade his markers.
Despite almost being run out of play by Schlotterbeck, Asano kept his composure to bury the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
#5 Flop - Kai Havertz | Germany
Kai Havertz's few good performances as a striker are proving to be an exception rather than the rule.
The Chelsea player again failed to provide the killer touch his team needed in front of goal. While he pressed well from the front, Havertz offered no goalscoring threat and largely struggled to be the focal point of his team's attack. Hansi Flick will need to rethink his tactics if the four-time winners are to qualify for the knockouts.
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