Football, fucking hell.
To say the climax of Group E of the World Cup was dramatic would be an understatement – the events of Thursday night were exactly why those who follow football are in love with the game.
Spain, Germany, Japan and Costa Rica completed their campaigns on Thursday night, all with a chance of advancing to the knockout stages.
Although there was a surprise earlier in the day when Belgium were eliminated from the tournament, no one could have predicted the exhilarating events at the Khalifa International Stadium, which hosted Japan against Spain, and at the Al Bayt Stadium, which saw Germany take on Costa Rica. But what we saw in two drama-filled hours was nothing short of spectacular.
It didn’t look like things would turn out that way with Spain and Germany – seen by many as the favorites to take the top two spots – winning 1-0 in their respective matches at half-time, meaning that they were the two teams to cross.
But the 45 seconds were beautifully chaotic.
Showing the excellent fighting spirit that earned them a shock victory over Germany, Japan came out roaring in the second half and turned their clash against Spain inside the first six minutes of the restart.
Substitute Ritsu Doan, who came off the bench to score Japan’s equalizer against Germany, scored in the 48th minute with a powerful left-footed effort, while Ao Tanaka made it 2-1.
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Tanaka’s goal was finally awarded after a long VAR check with Kaoru Mitoma, who put the ball on a plate for Tanaka, only keeping the ball in play when crossing.
The goal propelled Japan top of Group E, with Spain second ahead of Germany on goal difference.
A double twist at the Al Bayt Stadium meant Spain AND Germany headed to the tournament. Costa Rica equalized through Yeltsin Tejeda in the 58th minute, before going ahead with a scrappy effort that went last against German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in the 70th minute.
Costa Rica’s joy was short-lived as Kai Havertz equalized Hansi Flick’s side three minutes later to put Spain back in the top two.
It didn’t go well for Germany as they had an inferior goal difference to Spain, despite another strike from Havertz and Niclas Fullkrug’s late goal sealing a 4-2 win for the four-time world champions.
All the Germans could do was hope for a Spanish equalizer as they had a higher goalscoring record than Japan.
And despite some flirting with danger, Japan held on to claim victory, setting off some incredible scenes on the pitch and in the stands with Japanese fans in attendance even seen in tears full time.
Those representing talkSPORT on Thursday night were impressed with what they saw.
“One of the best nights of football ever,” said commentator Jim Proudfoot.
“It’s a utopia for us. It’s great radio, great for football and it has set this tournament on fire,” added former England international Stuart Pearce.
And we still have more than two weeks left for this tournament.
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