DOHA: In a place brimming with painful memories and etched with footballing scars, there were no more tears.
Instead, it was sheer delight.
Japan notched a stunning upset in a World Cup of upsets as they came from behind to beat giants Germany 2-1 on Wednesday (Nov 23).
A first-half penalty from Ilkay Gundogan put the Germans ahead, before Japan substitute Ritsu Doan slammed home and Takuma Asano's late strike gave the Samurai Blue the victory.
Almost three decades ago, Japan came within seconds of qualifying for their first World Cup, only to concede a stoppage-time equaliser to Iraq which sent South Korea through instead. Head coach Hajime Moriyasu was part of that team.
"I want to achieve our goals here in Doha, this time as a manager, and turn it into the 'Joy of Doha'," he said at the World Cup draw in April.
And if his side play as they did on Wednesday, they could well do so.
GERMANY MAKE A STATEMENT
Prior to the opening whistle, Hansi Flick’s men placed their hands over their mouths during a team photo.
All Germany players took part in the gesture in front of photographers on the pitch, after world soccer body FIFA had threatened seven European teams with sanctions if they wore the “OneLove” armband.
“We wanted to use our captain’s armband to take a stand for values that we hold in the Germany national team: diversity and mutual respect. Together with other nations, we wanted our voice to be heard,” said the team’s official English twitter account.
“It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t the case. That’s why this message is so important to us. Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position.”
In front of a crowd of about 42,000, Japan kept their shape and continued to frustrate their higher-ranked opponents in the early exchanges. The Germans are ranked eleventh in the world, while Moriyasu’s men sit 13 spots below.
As the team’s main supporter group, the “Ultra’ Nippon” hammered the drums and found one voice, it was Daizen Maeda who would put the ball in the back of the net in the eighth minute. However, the Celtic man was offside.
Germany’s first chance came in the 16th minute as Real Madrid’s Antonio Rudiger’s header dropped just wide of Shuichi Gonda’s near post.
A combination of spirited defending and solid goalkeeping continued to keep the Germans out but the resistance would end in the 31st minute when Gonda brought down David Raum.
Gundogan stepped up to tuck home the spot kick, as Japan’s supporters were stunned into silence.
And as Japan struggled to find attacking impetus, Jamal Musiala came close to doubling Germany’s lead just before half-time. The Bayern Munich midfielder cut inside a defender but could only fire high and wide.
Musiala was once again at the centre of all things good for Germany and he was part of a slick move that saw Kai Havertz tap home, only for the goal to be belatedly ruled offside.
A STUNNING WINNER
As the Japanese fans continued in their vociferous form, Germany would mount a quick counter attack in the 46th minute. But Serge Gnabry’s shot would clip the outside of the crossbar.
Off a wasted Japan corner, Musiala would then weave his way into the box and bamboozle a number of Japanese defenders. But they would breathe a sigh of relief as his shot was wayward.
Moriyasu threw caution to the wind and two substitutes on as Brighton’s Kaoru Mitoma and Vfl Bochum’s Takuma Asano. But it was Germany who came close again as a Gundogan effort rebounded off the post with Gonda beaten.
A swift Japanese counter-attack would next see Mitoma play Asano in on the right, but his shot was poor.
Gonda kept his team in the game will a brilliant double save in the 70th minute, as he pushed away a Gnabry header, before throwing his body at the follow-up.
The biggest save of the game looked to have been from German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer who thrust a strong hand at an Asano shot which looked destined to go in, before the rebound was blazed over.
But Japan continued to push and Doan would send the Japanese fans into utter delirium and the ball into the back of the net in the 75th minute.
Then the stadium roared even louder minutes later as Asano controlled the ball superbly on the right and hammered a shot past Neuer.
As the Japanese squad sprinted to celebrate on the sidelines, Flick looked flummoxed.
Japan will next face Costa Rica on Sunday, while Germany will take on Spain.
Moriyasu had said before the tournament that the goal for Japan was to get beyond the last 16.
With this result, which was also Japan's first win over Germany, his side are now one step closer to doing just that.
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