05/03/2024

Japan has pulled off another comeback at the FIFA World Cup after it downed European giants Spain. (Photo: FIFA World Cup - Twitter).

For the second time at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Japan has defied the odds to claim an upset victory over a European powerhouse and earnt top spot in Group E.

The contest between Japan and Spain was a mirror-image of Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina and the Blue Samurai’s triumph over Germany as the favourites took the ascendancy in the first half.

In Saudi Arabia’s triumph, it was Lionel Messi who found the breakthrough. In Japan’s win over Die Mannschaft it was Ilkay Gundogan who struck first and in this contest it was Alvaro Morata.

However, for the second time this World Cup the Khalifa International Stadium was the venue of a comeback which will go down in history for the Blue Samurai.

At half time, Japan seemed out of the contest. Spain dominated possession and seemed in full control but the second stanza saw the context of the game and group flipped on its head.

In the 48th minute, the Blue Samurai’s pressing paid dividends as the 2010 World Champions gave away the ball in Japan’s attacking third and Ritsu Doan made them pay with a well-struck effort from the edge of the box to draw his side level.

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Just like Saudi Arabia’s and Japan’s earlier victories, two goals were scored in quick succession to take the lead. Spain’s defence was left shell-shocked when Ao Tanaka put the Blue Samurai in front in the 51st minute.

However, this goal was not without controversy as replays showed the ball was millimetres from going out of play before the ball was crossed in. After a wait for VAR which felt like an eternity for Spanish and Japanese faithful, the goal was given to send the stadium into raptures.

The Blue Samurai then withstood the impending storm from Spain to claim its second win of the group stage and sealed top spot in Group E against all odds. At the start of the World Cup, no one would have given Japan a chance to repeat its heroics of 2018, where it made the knockout stages.

Then after its defeat against the run of play to Costa Rica, it seemed unlikely that Japan could pull off another upset win, however, the Blue Samurai held strong and not only qualified from a group with teams who have won a combined five World Cups, but finished ahead of Spain and Germany by two points.

A quick glance at the stats shows just how heroic and against the odds this triumph was, Japan had just six shots for the game to Spain’s 12, while Luis Enrique’s side had 83 per cent possession and completed 830 more passes than the Blue Samurai.

Japan will now look ahead to its clash against Croatia in the Round of 16 in the early hours of Tuesday morning, while Spain will have to pick itself up and return to its best when it faces another side which has defied the odds in Morocco.

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