Doha, December 2: A heartbreaking end for European powerhouse Germany as they crashed out of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in the group stage on Friday. It was their second successive group stage exit after suffering a similar fate in the last edition in Russia.
Germany registered a thrilling 4-2 win against Costa Rica in their last group game, but it was not enough for them to progress further, finishing a disappointing third in Group E.
Japan rallied from a goal down to beat Spain 2-1 in the other Group E contest to qualify for the last 16 stage as group topper. Spain despite the loss made it to the next round by virtue of a superior goal difference over Germany after both teams finished on four points each. Costa Rica were eliminated with Germany, ending the group stage at three points.
After a setback against Japan in their first opening game, Germany were at the bottom of the table before the game started against Costa Rica and needed all the permutation and combination to go their way to advance into the knockout stage. But it did not happen. Even a draw between Japan and Spain would have been enough for the four-time champions Germany, but with the Asian side registering their second upset win it was the end of the road for them.
Germany took an early lead in the 10th minute to keep themselves alive in the race, and kept the narrow advantage till the halftime break. In the second half, Costa Rica, who were also in the race and needed a win, scored the equaliser in the 58th minute before taking a surprise lead through an own goal by keeper Manuel Neuer in the 70th minute.
Germany took back the lead quickly with substitute Kai Havertz (73rd & 85th minute) scored two quick goals. Another substitute Niclas Fullkrug increased the lead to 4-2 with a goal in the 89th minute. But before the match ended, the news of Japan’s stunning victory came in, spreading disappointments to both German players and fans inside the Al Bayt stadium.
On a night of unrelenting drama in the desert near Doha, the Germans struck first with Serge Gnabry in the 10th minute but saw the Central Americans score twice with Yeltsin Tejeda and Juan Pablo Vargas before a Kai Havertz brace put them back in front.
Fellow substitute Niclas Fuellkrug added a fourth in stoppage time but it could do nothing to prevent their elimination as Spain advanced with a superior goal difference.
It was the first time in their illustrious World Cup history that Germany had failed to win any of their first two group matches and despite bagging a win on their last attempt, they will be departing Qatar with dropped heads.
They were teetering on the brink of elimination going into the game after losing their opening group match to Japan and then snatching a 1-1 draw against Spain.
Needing only victory to avoid a repeat of their shock 2018 World Cup first round exit, Germany, with seven Bayern Munich players in their line-up, charged forward from the start in search of an early goal to settle their nerves.
Jamal Musiala cut in from the left into the box and tested keeper Keylor Navas with a low drive in the second minute.
It was one-way traffic initially and unmarked Thomas Mueller should have done much better when he was picked out by Joshua Kimmich but could not keep his header on target.
Gnabry, however, scored with his glancing header in the 10th minute to put the four-time champions in front.
Costa Rica, who required at least a point to have a chance to progress, rarely crossed into the German half, with only about 25% possession in the first 45 minutes.
Germany were eager to make amends for their bad tournament start with teenager Musiala repeatedly taking on the entire Costa Rican defence.
The chances kept coming but the Germans, as in the game against Japan, struggled to convert them.
They were almost punished when Keysher Fuller benefitted from a double defensive blunder but his shot was tipped over the bar by keeper Manuel Neuer, who became a World Cup record holder for goalkeepers with his 19th appearance.
With the group standings flashing on the big screen of the Al Bayt stadium, Germany grew nervous with Musiala twice hitting the post early in the second half.
Neuer, however, could do nothing 13 minutes after the restart when Tejeda thundered the ball past him on the rebound after he had first saved a Kendall Waston header.
Vargas then bungled the ball over the line in the 70th minute to put them in front.
Substitute Havertz scored twice in 12 minutes and Fuellkrug added another in stoppage time but ultimately it was too little too late with Spain advancing with a superior goal difference.
Japan roar back again to shock Spain and top group
Japan staged their second stunning turnaround of the World Cup to beat 2010 champions Spain 2-1 on Thursday to surge into the last 16 along with their beaten opponents and dump Germany out in one of the greatest nights for the Samurai Blue.
Staring at the prospect of an early World Cup exit at half-time, Japan set up a round of 16 clash with Croatia – the beaten finalists in 2018 – while Spain had to rely on goal difference to edge out Germany. They now face Morocco.
Japan’s turnaround was built on coach Hajime Moriyasu’s revamp of his side at the break when they were losing 1-0.
On came Ritsu Doan and within three minutes he hammered in a shot from the edge of the box which Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon – whose poor clearance had created the danger in the first place – could not keep out.
With Japan’s noisy travelling fans barely catching their breath, Ao Tanaka scored from point-blank range in the 51st minute, bundling the ball in after the other halftime sub Kaoru Mitoma cut the ball back from the byline.
The VAR system took several minutes to confirm the ball had not gone out before Mitoma’s touch. Replays suggested that a sliver of the ball had not crossed the line and the verdict sparked wild celebrations similar to the scenes that followed Japan’s 2-1 comeback win over Germany last week.
“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,” said Moriyasu whose side lost to Costa Rica in their second match in Qatar.
“The players conceded one goal, but they persisted and in very difficult circumstances, they did very well,” he told reporters.
Spain had looked in total control in the first half but suddenly they were the ones clinging to their chance of staying in the World Cup as Costa Rica and Germany battled out their own drama in the other Group E match.
Germany won 4-2, a margin of victory that was not big enough to keep them in the tournament.
Alvaro Morata had put the Spaniards ahead when he scored his third goal in three games in Qatar, rising above Japan’s defence to power a header past goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda in the 11th minute after a cross by his former Chelsea team mate Cesar Azpilicueta.
In the dying minutes, winger Dani Olmo came closest to a leveller but his angled shot was easily gathered by Gonda.
The breathtaking win for Japan meant they topped Group E, followed by Spain in second who finished ahead of third-placed Germany only on goal difference.
Japan fans were in tears at the end of the match which gives them a chance to go further than they ever have before at a World Cup. Japan have previously reached the last 16 on three occasions and lost each time.
“There were many fans who came all the way from Japan, as well as those that stayed behind in Japan,” coach Moriyasu said. “We are gifting this win to the people of Japan and we are very happy about it.”
Spain coach Luis Enrique, who made five changes to his starting side to give first-choice players a rest, was far from happy.
“We didn’t have any danger in the first half, then in the second half, I told them during halftime to be cautious, because they would attack in the second half, they don’t have anything to lose,” he said. “I have nothing to celebrate.”
Japan defender Kou Itakura was shown his second yellow card of the tournament and will be suspended for the Croatia match.
(ToI With inputs from agencies/Agencies)