In what was a tale of bold substitutions, fleeting football and a never-say-die attitude, Japan stunned the world of football with a 2-1 win over four-time world champions Germany in their opening match of the FIFA World Cup on Wednesday. The Blue Samurai used all of their 26% of possession to hand Germany their first defeat in 26 games.
Ilkay Gundogan put Germany ahead with a calm penalty in the 33rd minute, sending Japan’s goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda – whose foul on David Raum saw them concede the penalty – the wrong way. While Germany dominated the half thereafter, Japan did launch a couple of counters which should’ve alerted the Germans to what was to come in the next 45 mins.
At half-time, Hansi Flick’s men had 80 percent possession. They had a total of 14 shots with five on target. Japan had one shot, but that was off target. But that didn’t matter. Japanese coach, Hajime Moriyasu, who’s often been criticized for setting up his team negatively, made all attacking changes in the second so much so that they had two wingers playing as the full-backs.
It was almost like Moriyasu was planning for a rugby match where the important players are initially benched.
They managed to simply slice through the Germans in the second half and continued to grow in belief. The Japanese kept going with their main man Junya Ito chasing down balls and causing endless problems for the German defense.
Not that Germany didn’t attack. They managed to crowd the Japan box but resilient defending meant that they couldn’t find a way through. It was also Japan’s belief that was the difference. It was belief when keeper Gonda pulled off an insane four-save combo in the 70th minute to keep his team in the match, surely redeeming himself for conceding a cheap penalty. Serge Gnabry set up Jonas Hofman, whose shot was denied by Gonda.
A cross then found Gnabry but his header was also denied by Gonda and he managed to pull out a save again from the rebound. Buoyed by that save, Japan seemed to attack fearlessly. Kaoru Mitoma started the attack down the left flank, setting up Takumi Minamino, who plays for current Premier League leaders Arsenal.
Minamino’s shot, which was more of a cross, was parried tamely by Germany’s sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer and found Ritsu Doan, who had just come on four minutes earlier. The Freiburg man made no mistake, thundering home to give Japan the lead.
Astonishingly, Mitoma, Minamino and Doan, were all second-half substitutes. Germany were shocked, they knew they had to attack since they face Spain next and that could be tricky. But Japan also knew that and instead of playing for a draw, they went all out. Eight minutes later, it was another substitute, Takuma Asano who gave Japan the lead. And it was the simplest of moves.
A long ball over the top found Asano with ample space, making most of the abysmal German offside trap. He cooly held off Nikalas Suele and squeezed in a finish past the imposing Neuer at the first post. It doesn’t hold well for an experienced keeper like Neuer conceding at the near post.
And it doesn’t hold well for Germany losing their first match of the tournament. It immediately brought to mind their disastrous outing at Russia 2018 and they’ll have to put on a much-improved show against Spain and Costa Rica if they want to make it to the knockouts.