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# twists and turns
Japan shock Spain and eliminate Germany on roller-coaster World Cup night
Recounting an astonishing night as Japan came from behind to beat Spain 2-1 and knock out Germany in the process.

Japan 2

Spain 1

Seven minutes 

It’s a GUBU event.

Sergio Busquets takes a heavy touch on the edge of his box and loses possession. Spain escape when Junya Ito fires into the side netting. A sign of things to come? 

8 minutes 

Daizen Maeda is diligent, intelligent, picking his moments carefully to shoot from the line and close down Spanish defenders, keen not to leave any holes through which Spain can thread their needles. For Japan are knitted tight, suffocating all sense of space.

12 minutes 

Gavi, knows, though. Gavi knows that the space is outside, and takes the ball to the endline and pulls the ball across the box. As he picks himself up he sees his cleared cross passed by Nico Williams to Cesar Azpilicueta, who studs the ball to a stop before hoisting the ball into he box for Alvaro Morata. 1-0 Spain. Japan flounce their arms in self-disgust. A plan undone too early. 

14 minutes 

Content cheers rise from the Spanish end. The As it Stands table is flashed on the screen, and it’s quickly decoded that Germany have gone 1-0 up against Costa Rica. Spain’s safety net was just woven another few togs. 

 28 minutes 

Screams of different tenor from both ends meet and mingle as Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon is pressed and takes a chunky touch backwards towards his goal-line, sending himself scrambling back before whipping the ball out to his right without a hint of panic. It has raised Spain from their torpor, a reminder that the game is still in fact happening. 

35 minutes 

The Japan ultras have finally fallen silent, dulled by the spectacle of nothing happening. Japan doggedly keep their 5-3-2 shape, forcing Spain to knock it about listlessly, allowing them slip into their own worst habits. Luis Enrique is the picture of calm on the sideline. The crowd are becoming disengaged. I might start a Twitch stream to catch the wandering eyeballs, he thinks. Possibly. 


Japan get half-time with themselves and Costa Rica only a goal down. They know they are still only a goal from the knockout stages. In the bowels of the Khalifa Stadium, Hajime Moriyasu makes his play. Ritsu Doan scored off the bench against Germany – he is coming on. So too is Kaoru Mitoma. Japan switch to a back four. Now is the time to attack. Luis Enrique swaps Azpilicueta for Dani Carvajal. Best give Azpi a rest. 

48 minutes 

Doan is sprinting away in disbelieving glee to the corner flag, met by the entirety of the Japanese subs bench. He has just cut inside from the left and blasted a shot inside Unai Simon’s left-hand post, to which the goalkeeper gets a tame hand. It’s the goal that puts Japan into the last-16, ahead of Germany on goals scored. But what a precarious kind of glory. What do Japan do now? Hold onto their point?  Squat down and pray for Costa Rica? 

spqatar-doha-2022-world-cup-group-e-jpn-vs-esp Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Doan celebrates his goal. Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

51 minutes

Doan skates inside from the right flank once again: Spain can’t live with him. He pulls the ball across the goal where Mitoma stretches every sinew to skip it back in the direction from which it came. Spain hands are raised in appeal. Ao Tanaka bundles the ball into the net. He sets off on Doan’s glorious run to the corner flag but is turned back halfway there: the flag is raised, and Spain try to restart play quickly. They can’t. 

52 minutes 

VAR check flashes up on the screen. The ball looks like it has crossed the line and gone out play. This should be done quickly.

53 minutes 

Or not so quickly. 

54 minutes 

Tanaka gets to complete his run into history. Spain cast bemused looks at the referee. Goal given. ‘Ball Not Over Line’ reads the stadium screen. 

55 minutes 

Hajime Moriyasu has returned to his back five, suddenly, astonishingly, with a lead to protect. Luis Enrique sends for his front-line guys, Ferran Torres and Marco Asensio. No more messing. Once calm, he’s now…twitching. 

57 minutes 

Murmurs in the press box. 1-1. A low swoon of sickly worry spreads from the Spanish fans, the stadium rumbles to the uneasy shifting of seats. Costa Rica are level against Germany. Spain could actually make a mess of this. They are one more Costa Rica goal away from joining Germany in being eliminated.  Someone stands from the Spain bench to gesture at Luis Enrique. Message sent. 

60 minutes 

Still images of Japan’s goal surface. Maybe, just maybe, that ball isn’t quite over the line…see this angle from above? In the age of AI offsides, nobody can fully trust their mere mortal eyes anymore. Then again Japan are 2-1 up. Best not to rely on them very often in this game.  

japan-v-spain-fifa-world-cup-2022-group-e-khalifa-international-stadium PA The ball is kept in play by Mitoma. PA

65 minutes 

Spain are still blunt and careless but now they are clammy and lacking all control, looking like they may be cut open by the rapier thrust of Japan’s counter attack at any moment. 

69.5 minutes 

2-1! Costa! Rica! A Spanish journalist shrieks. So Spain is…out? TV monitors blink unevenly across the press box as the Spanish press fumble for streams of the other game on which their fate now lies. Spain can feel the knife at their throat. 

70 minutes 

What a chance! Heads flick up from live mathematical fretting to see Asano run clear on the Spanish goal but horribly miscue his shot. A barely deserved repreive. This is no mere calamity from Spain, no mere collapse. They beat Costa Rica 7-0! And now they are going to be eliminated at their expense? 

71 minutes 

The big screen shows a glum Andres Iniesta, leaned to his left, his phone separating him and his son. The news on that phone is currently separating Spain from the knockout stages while entwining them with humiliation. Enrique’s subs and frantic movements have sparked some energy in the Spanish performance but they still they don’t trouble Japan’s goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda. 

japan-v-spain-fifa-world-cup-2022-group-e-khalifa-international-stadium PA Gavi. PA

74 minutes 

Poorly suppressed shouts and hardly restrained fist pumps from the Spaniards in the press box as they lean over screens: Germany have equalised. 2-2. As it stands, Spain are safe, and so too are Japan. But can they really trust Germany? In this mind-bending world, the safest course of action is actually to write off the Germans. 

75 minutes

The stadium screen doesn’t announce the goal updates, merely flashes the As it stands table up instead. Would it kill them to announce the goals? The Spanish fans can’t bear to fully celebrate their reprieve. 

80 minutes 

Oh Itakura. He plants a free header from a free-kick right at Simon. Shambolic Spanish defending. But don’t blame them for their distracted minds. Everyone is everywhere all at once. Aside from Japan and aside from Moriaysu. So long as Germany don’t score, they have nothing to worry about. 

84 minutes 

Germany score. The Spanish journalists loosen their shouts and relax their pumping arms a little more. We peer over at their screens. Kai Havertz? The stadium screen responds with the As it Stands table. Now the knife is at Japan’s throats. If they concede, they will go out to Germany on Goals Scored, made to forever regret that sloppy loss to Costa Rica. 

86 minutes 

Suddenly Spain show an interest in attacking. What are they doing? A draw sends both teams through and eliminates the Germans. This is an act of mindless cruelty. 

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89 minutes 

Jordi Alaba has come on, and his shot is blocked by Gonda but the ball breaks in slow-motion to a Spanish attacker, but Maya Yoshida appears from nowhere to make the challenge. He resisted the temptation to run to the corner flag in celebration. 

90 minutes 

Seven minutes of added time. 

10 minutes of added time in the other game. 

Spain still want to win this game. Why? 

Dani Olmo hits a shot that Gonda smothers. He clings to the ball on the ground like a long-lost friend. Does he have to let it go? 

91 minutes 

Spanish cheers are now a relieved wheeze. 4-2 Germany. A journalist beside us says that, in many ways, finishing second will suit Spain, as it takes them out of Brazil’s path to the final…

94 minutes 

No such luck for Japan. They must repel Spain. They must not concede or else they are out. They missed out on the 1994 World Cup thanks to a last-second concession, which has been titled The Tragedy of Doha. There is no room in the Thesaurus to go any further and fittingly describe the prospect of conceding here. It’s an unspeakable fear. Three more minutes. 

95 minutes 

Whistles from the crowd. 

96 minutes 

Pleading whistles. Pleading whistles from the crowd. 

97 minutes 

Whistle. A whistle. The referee’s whistle. 


The Japanese players sprint onto the field and lose themselves and each other in awesome ecstasy. Some Spanish players slump to the ground, others press their hands to their knees. They haven’t been eliminated, they merely feel like they have. The stadium announcer screams. 


Three minutes later he follows up with  confirmation of Spain’s progression, perhaps fooled by the Spanish reaction into thinking they were merely still nervously waiting. The side that won 7-0 just over a week ago now looked so vulnerable. They must settle for second spot while Japan have topped the group by beating Germany and Spain and somehow losing to Costa Rica. 

Germany, remarkably are out. 

Moriyasu, collects his people’s acclaim, beaming but composed, the only man who had the plan to survive a fraught, extraordinary night. 


Japan: Shuichi Gonda; Kou Itakura, Maya Yoshida (captain), Shogo Taniguchi; Junya Ito; Hidemasa Morita, Ao Tanaka; Yuto Nagatomo (Kaoru Mitoma, HT); Dachai Kamada (Takehiro Tomiaysu, 68′) Daizen Maeda (Takuma Asano, 61′), Takefusa Kubo (Ritsu Doan, HT)

Spain: Unai Simon; Cesar Azpilicueta (Dani Carvajal, HT), Pau Torres, Rodri, Alejandro Balde (Ansu Fati, 68′); Sergio Busquets, Gavi (Jordi Alba, 68′), Pedri; Nico Williams, (Ferran Torres, 56′) Alvaro Morata, (Marco Asensio, 56′) Dani Olmo 

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