To win Group E and advance to the round of 16, Japan pulled off another incredible World Cup comeback, defeating a surprised Spain team that was fortunate to advance with them.
This was possibly the most dramatic night thus far in a tournament that has been full of surprises, with Spain having to wait to advance on the outcome of Germany’s match with Costa Rica.
All four teams had a chance to advance when the game began, but since Spain only needed a draw to advance, no other teams’ favours were anticipated to be required.
Alvaro Morata’s close-range header of Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross put La Roja in command at the half, but Japan would soon turn the match and Group E as a whole on its head.
Ritsu Doan and Kaoru Mitoma, two Samurai Blue substitutes, were sent on at halftime, and within six minutes of the game’s restart, both had a significant impact.
Ao Tanaka scored from close range after Mitomo recovered Doan’s low cross after Doan had equalised with a powerful strike from the edge of the box.
Initially, the goal was disallowed by the assistant referee who indicated that Doan’s cross had left the field of play, but the Video Assistant Referee determined that Mitomo had reached it in time.
Spain’s situation worsened when Germany unexpectedly seized the lead over Costa Rica moments later, since they were leaving at that point.
To the surprise of the Spain fans and pretty much everyone else present, the new group table was displayed on the stadium’s large screens.
Only Germany’s late comeback allowed La Roja to advance as the group’s runners-up on goal differential. Luis Enrique’s team was in serious difficulty and was showing little signs of understanding how to rescue themselves.