In an electric opening game in Group E at the 2022 World Cup, Japan came back from a goal down to earn a first-ever – and well-deserved – victory over a complacent Germany.
Japan started the brighter of the two teams, full of energy, heart and eager to swarm around any German player on the ball. They even had the ball in the net early, with Ilkay Gundogan getting robbed of possession near halfway and Junya Ito crossing for Daizen Maeda to steer in.
The Celtic forward, however, had badly mistimed his run when he had no need to, leading to the goal to be disallowed. After the first 15 minutes, Japan’s pressing started to wane and a nervous Germany team began to grow into the game and dictate proceedings – largely playing into and through the dazzling feet of 19-year-old Jamal Musiala.
Hansi Flick’s side took the lead just after half an hour, with the dangerous wing-back David Raum galloping free into the Japan penalty area to collect a perfectly-weighted lofted ball from Joshua Kimmich. Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda was clumsy off his line to challenge not once but twice, which was enough for referee Ivan Barton to point to the spot and VAR to uphold the decision.
Manchester City’s Gundogan, who had an otherwise chaotic first, showed enough calm to slot the penalty down the middle. It could have been more had Gundogan not selfishly chosen to shoot instead of playing Raum in earlier in the game, or if Kai Havertz – who struggled to lead the German line with any kind of authority – not checked himself back onside to tap into an empty net.
Niklas Sule had shown surprisingly nimble feet after lurching forward from right-back, finding Thomas Muller out wide on the German right. He badly misjudged the cross but after Japan fluffed the clearance, Serge Gnabry found himself free to square the ball across the box for the over-eager Havertz.
After a lengthy, and wholly unnecessary, VAR check, Japan went up the other end and nearly snatched an equaliser. Nagatomo had space and whipped in a dangerous cross only for the woeful Maeda to head wide.
At half-time, Arsenal’s versatile defender Takehiro Tomiyasu entered the fray in an attempt to quell the constant danger of Raum’s overlapping runs. Takefusa Kubo was the man to make way as Hajime Moriyasu shifted to a back five with wing-backs. The change appeared to have little initial effect as Gnabry crashed a shot off the woodwork from a narrow angle within two minutes of the restart.
Soon after, Musiala danced his way past several Japanese defenders in the penalty box only to eventually fire over. Had he kept his head over the ball, it’s no exaggeration to say it would have been one of the great World Cup goals. On the hour the Bayern Munich wonderkid was at it again, drifting infield to lay off for the onrushing Gundogan, who squandered yet another opportunity for Germany with a side-foot effort against the post.
From that point on it seemed a matter of when and not if Germany would find a second to kill off the game. After a lull in the tempo due to substitutions, Gnabry had a header tipped wide by Gonda, who was also out bravely to deny the follow-up.
And then, just like that, Japan fashioned their best chance as Ito darted into the box undetected to collect a lovely dink from Wataru Endo on his chest. Rudiger got back for a last-ditch challenge but only managed to divert Ito’s shot towards the opposite side of the goal.
Manuel Neuer stretched for a miraculous save and Sakai lacked any kind of composure when the ball fell to him with the goalmouth gaping. The right-back smashed his effort over, put his head in his hands and was substituted almost immediately after.
If that was the warning, Germany didn’t pay any attention and Japan levelled the game minutes later. Neuer got his hands to another effort, this time from Takumi Minamino, but again it fell to a blue shirt. This time, however, it was Freiburg winger Ritsu Doan who like Minamino was only just on as a substitute and made no mistake.
Japan, rewarded for their coach’s bravery, looked revitalised from that point on. So much so, in fact, that they took the lead in the 83rd minute out of absolutely nothing.
Ko Itakura launched a hopeful free-kick up the pitch and substitute Takuma Asano brought it down, shrugged off Nico Schlotterbeck and fired straight through Neuer into the roof of the net. Niklas Sule was too deep on the right, Schlotterbeck too weak in the challenge and Neuer too slow to react, or even throw his arms up to stop the shot.
Germany had the life sucked out of them. From that point on, Japan’s belief was insurmountable. A long ball and Leon Goretzka half-volley wide was all the Germans could muster in the final minutes as Japan held on for a momentous victory.
Doan summarised the spirit of the team with a crunching tackle on Schlotterbeck and a full-bodied sprint at Neuer in the 95th minute of the game.
GK: Manuel Neuer – 4/10 – Made a wonderful reaction save to keep Ito’s deflected effort out but could have done better for both goals.
RB: Niklas Sule – 3/10 – Doesn’t look comfortable at full-back and offers next to nothing going forward. Far too deep for Japan’s winning goal.
CB: Antonio Rudiger – 6/10 – Solid throughout and mopped up a number of Japanese breaks well. Planted a header just wide from a corner in the first half.
CB: Nico Schlotterbeck – 3/10 – A really poor game for the Borussia Dortmund centre-back who was far too casual on the ball and weak and hesitant off it.
LB: David Raum – 7/10 – A constant threat down the left side, particularly in the first half. Combined well with Musiala and won Germany’s penalty.
CM: Joshua Kimmich – 6/10 – Played a lovely floated ball to Raum for the penalty but was otherwise quiet. Neat and tidy as always.
CM: Ilkay Gundogan – 7/10 – Lost possession for Japan’s early offside goal but was full of running and had several good chances to score from open play but finishing let him down. Converted from the spot and Germany looked much worse after he left the field.
RM: Serge Gnabry – 5/10 – Some nice touches and link-up from the right but should have squared for Muller in second-half instead of shooting.
AM: Thomas Muller – 4/10 – Had a quiet game and failed to deliver with any quality when presented with the opportunity to cross into the box. Best years look behind him.
LM: Jamal Musiala – 8/10 – Germany’s main attacking outlet was a menace between the lines and served up a number of clever passes and touches for teammates. Little threat once he was substituted.
CF: Kai Havertz – 5/10 – Had a goal disallowed at the end of the first half. Struggles to play as the focal point for this Germany team.
SUB: Leon Goretzka (67′ for Ilkay Gundogan) – 5/10 – Snatched at late chance.
SUB: Jonas Hofmann (67′ for Thomas Muller) – 4/10 – Had little impact.
SUB: Niklas Fullkrug (78′ for Kai Havertz) – N/A
SUB: Mario Gotze (78′ for Jamal Musiala) – N/A
SUB: Youssoufa Moukoko (89′ for Serge Gnabry) – N/A
Manager: Hansi Flick – 3/10 – Failed to respond to Japan’s energy after leveller. Substituting Gundogan and Musiala completely backfired.
GK: Shuichi Gonda – 7/10 – Rash and clumsy to foul Raum, potentially twice, for Germany penalty. Fine double save on Serge Gnabry in second half.
RB: Hiroki Sakai – 2/10 – Overloaded on right and struggled. Went completely missing for Raum’s run into box and missed a huge chance to level game.
CB: Ko Itakura – 7/10 – Composed on the ball and tenacious off it.
CB: Maya Yoshida – 7/10 – Crucial block on Gundogan in the first half and made some important clearances.
LB: Yuto Nagatomo – 5/10 – Dangerous cross for Maeda chance in first half but Japan improved after replacing both full-backs.
CM: Ao Tanaka – 7/10 – Plenty of superb tackles in the midfield alongside Endo. Tireless.
CM: Wataru Endo – 8/10 – Broke up Germany’s play well, snapping at Gundogan and Kimmich at every opportunity and helped double up on Musiala. Tenacious and committed throughout.
RM: Junya Ito – 7/10 – Brilliant cross for Maeda’s disallowed goal opening exchanges and looked a threat throughout.
AM: Daichi Kamada – 5/10 – The Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder had a quiet game.
LM: Takefusa Kubo – 5/10 – Impressive work rate but had little of the ball. Sacrificed at half-time as Japan changed system.
CF: Daizan Maeda – 3/10 – Needlessly offside to spoil Japan’s opener. Headed wide with the last kick of the first half.
SUB: Takehiro Tomiyasu (46′ for Takefusa Kubo) – 6/10 – Solid at centre-back after coming on.
SUB: Takuma Asano (57′ for Daizen Maeda) – 9/10 – Bright from the moment he came on and his dangerous movement helped turn the game on its head. Glorious winner to send Japan supporters into raptures.
SUB: Karou Mitoma (57′ for Yuto Nagatomo) – 6/10 – Brighton’s dangerman helped turn the tide.
SUB: Ritsu Doan (71′ for Ao Tanaka) – 8/10 – Scored the equaliser and ran himelf ragged.
SUB: Takumi Minamino (74′ for Hiroki Sakai) – N/A
Manager: Hajime Moriyasu – 9/10 – Set up his team to play on the counter but reacted at half-time with his side a goal down. Moriyasu’s substitutes were inspired.