Japan stun Spain to finish on top of Group E

Japan stun Spain to finish on top of Group E

It was a day of high drama at the 2022 FIFA World Cup as Japan produced one more incredible upset in Group E to qualify for the knockout stages. The Asian side scripted another second-half come-back to shock Spain at the Khalifa International Stadium on Thursday, with goals from Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka cancelling out Alvaro Morata’s first-half opener and sending them to the top of the group.

The Asian side defended valiantly throughout the first period, with Spain dominating over 80% of the possession in the opening 45 minutes. Luis Enrique made a flurry of changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Germany, with Alvaro Morata entering the starting line-up after his two substitute goals along with Nico Williams, Cesar Azpilicueta, and Pau Torres.

The Atletico Madrid forward continued his fine form in the tournament and opened the scoring for La Roja in the 11th minute, rising highest to meet Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross and head home to put Spain 1-0 in front. Morata had another couple of half-chances to find the back of the net in the opening period, but Spain largely failed to convert their possession into meaningful opportunities.

Having come out second best in the first half, Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu made two changes at half-time, with Ritsu Doan and Karou Mitoma coming on. These substitutions had an instant impact as Doan scored his second goal off the bench for the Asian side to draw Japan level, smashing in the equaliser on 48 minutes from outside the box. Spain turned over possession inside their defensive third to give the ball away, and goalkeeper Unai Simon should have done better with the shot, failing to stop the strike from going in.

Three minutes later, Japan struck again to take the lead in controversial fashion. Ao Tanaka bundled the ball home after substitute Karou Mitoma’s cut-back, but the goal was initially disallowed for going out of bounds. However, a VAR check showed that the ball had not completely crossed the line, allowing the goal to stand and put Japan ahead.

Spain struggled to carve out any openings after going behind and Japan stuck to their task admirably to hold on for another famous victory against former world champions.

With this result, Japan secure a safe passage to the knockout rounds for the second World Cup in a row for the first time in their history, and Hajime Moriyasu’s side will now face the 2018 finalists Croatia in the round of 16. Spain, meanwhile, qualify as the runners-up in the group and will take on Morocco in the first knockout round, who finished top of Group F.