The 2022 FIFA World Cup continues to produce upsets, even if the shocks have not come where predicted.
Just a day after Saudi Arabia pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament by beating twice winners Argentina, and one of the pre-tournament favourites, then it was the turn of Germany to be on the wrong end of a surprise result.
They were beaten 2 -1 by Japan, despite dominating much of the match, and, already face an uphill battle to reach the knock-out stages of the competition.
The pre-match rituals were dominated by continuing protests against the decision of FIFA to ban the captains of seven European nations to wear “One Love” rainbow coloured armbands expressing their support for LGBTQ+ rights.
When they lined-up for the team photographed, the German players all covered their mouths, indicating that they had effectively been gagged from speaking out.
The first half
When the action got underway, although Japan had an early goal ruled out for offside, it was Germany who dominated and it was no surprise when they went ahead from the penalty spot in the 33rd minute, Ilkay Gundogan coolly slotting home.
Kai Havertz through that he had added a second just before the interval but that too was chalked off for offside.
The second half
The Germans continued to dominate and it seemed only a matter of time before they would double their lead, with Gundogan striking the outside of a post.
The Japanese goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda had been at fault for the penalty, but he more than atoned for his error by making four saves in a matter of seconds to keep the deficit down to one, before it was the turn of his counterpart in the German goal, Manuel Neuer, to come to the rescue of his side with a fingertip save.
It was Japan’s substitutes who were to play a vital role in the end. Ritsu Doan had only been on the field four minutes when a cross-shot was palmed out to his feet and he found the back of Neuer’s net.
Eight minutes later the match was completely turned on its head when another substitute Takuma Asano, controlled a long ball, ran through the vacant left back area, and beat Neuer with a thumping drive from an acute angle.
Germany threw the kitchen sink at Japan in a bid to find an equaliser but there was just no way through.
Spain thrash Costa Rica
The significance of this result became clear after Spain thrashed Costa Rica in their other match. Not only did this affirm Spain’s credentials as possible winner of the tournament, but it also offered evidence that Costa Rica, along with the hosts Qatar, may be one of the weakest teams at the World Cup this year.
Japan will start clear favourites to beat them in the next game, which would leave them in six points after two games.
If that were to be the case, Germany would need to beat Spain in their match later that same day, or their fate would be out of their own hands, and they would be looking at an early exit for the second World Cup in succession.
For a team that won the competition as recently as 2014, that marks some fall from grace.
The German reaction
Many German fans insist that their team deserved to lose the game and had been justly punished for focusing on politics and not football. In reality, this was a game they should have won, but their inability to create the chances they created cost them dear in the end.
The Japanese view
Meanwhile, back in Japan, fans celebrated wildly the unexpected success of their team, as they gathered in restaurants and bars and also in shopping malls where the game was being shown on giant screens,
The fans that were in the stadium also went outside to celebrate, but not after cleaning-up after themselves first. And the players themselves also made sure that the dressing room they had used was left spotless before leaving it.
What happens next
Attention will now turn to the Spain-Germany clash on Sunday evening, which, even this early in the competition, has become a must win game for the Germans, If Japan can do their job by beating Costa Rica earlier in the day, they will just ratchet up that pressure a bit more.
VISIT OUR BLOG TO GET YOUR FIX FOR ALL OF THE MOST CURRENT FOOTBALL NEWS STORIES & FEATURES