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Japan Shocks Germany in Teams' Group E Opener at FIFA World Cup

Trailing 1-0 at halftime, the Samurai Blue stormed back with second-half goals from Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano to beat the four-time FIFA World Cup champions.

Japan national team players celebrate their victory over Germany in a 2022 FIFA World Cup Group E match in Doha on November 23. (KYODO)

After world No. 51 Saudi Arabia's stunning 2-1 win over third-ranked Argentina on Tuesday, November 22 at the FIFA World Cup, thoughts of another big upset early in the quadrennial tournament danced in Japan fans' minds throughout the national team's tournament-opening match against Germany.

Mission accomplished. The Samurai Blue authored an unforgettable upset of their own. It was an instant classic, in the parlance of many pundits.

Japan, ranked 24th in the world, scored a pair of second-half goals in an eight-minute span to fuel a 2-1 comeback victory over world No. 11 Germany in the teams' Group E opener on Wednesday in Doha. (On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia had also trailed 1-0 at halftime against the two-time World Cup champions.)

Following the Ball

Japan's Ritsu Doan, a 71st-minute substitute, delivered the tying goal in the 75th minute. Teammate Takuma Asano, who entered the match as a substitute in the 57th minute, added the second in the 83rd at Khalifa International Stadium as four-time World Cup champion Germany (1954, 1974 and 1990 as West Germany and most recently in 2014) suffered an unexpected defeat.

It was Doan's first goal for the national team since January 24, 2019, against Vietnam in the Asian Cup.  

Describing his mindset about entering the match as a second-half substitute with Japan trailing 1-0, Doan said: "I entered with a strong feeling that I'm the one who will decide, and I'm the only one."

"Now I want to fight with a strong feeling as a team without being happy or sad," Doan was quoted as saying by Sports Hochi. "I want to liven up Japan's soccer. I want to fight with my heart."

For Asano, his match-winning tally was his first for the Samurai Blue since finding his target against Paraguay on June 2 in a Kirin Challenge Cup match in Sapporo.

"For us, it didn't matter who the opponent was, I wasn't really conscious of it," Asano told reporters. "I was just conscious of playing my own game. Everyone [on the team] was able to express themselves on the pitch and it showed in the result."

Late in the match, Samurai Blue goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda came up big with a pair of saves in rapid succession, stopping shots by Serge Gnabry and Jonas Hoffman.

Managing to Win

Samurai Blue manager Hajime Moriyasu's second-half substitutions and advice to his players during halftime paid off.

"I want my players to be prepared to score when they have chances, and to play tenaciously," Moriyasu told reporters, relaying his message to the team, according to Nikkan Sports.

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When the match was over, Moriyasu took stock of Japan's milestone, including

"I believe it's a historic moment, a historic victory," the manager was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. "If I think about the development of Japanese soccer, thinking of players, for them this was a big surprise."

Honing Their Skills in Germany

Both of the Samurai Blue's goalscorers ply their craft for German Bundesliga teams, as do six more of Japan's 26-man World Cup squad in Qatar. Doan plays for SC Freiburg, while Asano is in his second season with Vfl Bochum.

"They're fighting in a very strong, tough, prestigious league," Moriyasu told reporters. "They've been building up their strength. In that context we believe that those divisions [Bundesliga and second division] have been contributing to the development of Japanese players.

"I'm very grateful for that."

Doan, 24, capitalized on his speed and energy to create a quality scoring chance after Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, the team captain who's appearing in his fourth World Cup, had stonewalled Takumi Minamino's attempt, perfectly executing a rebound chance.

Like Doan, the 27-year-old Minamino utilized his youthful vigor to turn the tide for Japan. Specifically, Minamo ran past Germany defender Nico Schlotterbeck and lofted a high ball from a tight angle past Neuer, sending his teammates on the sideline into instant euphoria.

First-Half Action

For the Samurai Blue, Daizen Maeda's goal in the eighth minute was disallowed because he was offside. Teammate Junya Ito initiated the quality scoring chance with a long, pinpoint pass to Maeda, who was running near full stride as he caught up with the ball.

Both sides had chances to take the early lead.

Germany defender Antonio Rudiger's header sailed wide of the right goal post about 16 minutes into the match.

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And in the 28th minute, Ilkay Gundogan ripped a low shot from beyond the area that Gonda snatched in the air.

Moments later, Gonda was whistled for shoving Germany defender David Raum.

Then Gundogan scored on a 33rd-minute penalty, sending the ball into the lower left corner of the net to break the scoreless deadlock.

In first-half stoppage time, Germany also had a great opportunity to double its advantage, but Kai Havertz's tap-in goal (the byproduct of a beautiful crossing pass) was called off because teammate Jamal Musiala was offside.

Before the whistle signaled the end of the first half, Maeda was back in the spotlight, drilling a header wide of the net.

Germany manager Hansi Flick spoke about the challenge of this match for his squad at a Tuesday news conference. "I think, yes, we have quite the challenge ahead of us tomorrow," he said, according to Kyodo News, "and that is why we tried to prepare as well as we could and I am looking forward to it."

Statistical Comparison

Germany had possession for 74% percent of the match and also outshot Japan 26-12.

The Samurai Blue had 14 fouls to the Germans' six. 

Past Japan-Germany Matchups

Japan and Germany had met twice before in men's international soccer, both times were friendlies. Germany beat Japan 3-0 on December 16, 2004, in Yokohama, getting a pair of goals from Miroslav Klose (54th and 90th minutes) and another from Michael Ballack (69th).

On May 30, 2006, they played to a 2-2 draw in Leverkusen, Germany. Naohiro Tanaka scored twice for Japan (57th and 65th) before Germany mounted a comeback on a Klose tally in the 76th minute and Bastian Schweinsteiger's goal in the 80th to even the score.

Samurai Blue's World Cup Openers

Here's what happened in each of Japan's previous six opening matches at the World Cup:

1998 ― Argentina 1, Japan 0

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2002 ― Japan 2, Belgium 2

2006 ― Australia 3, Japan 1

2010 ― Japan 1, Cameroon 0

2014 ― Ivory Coast 2, Japan 1

2018 ― Japan 2, Colombia 1

Up Next

Japan returns to action against Group E foe Costa Rica on Sunday, November 27 at 7 PM JST. Germany meets 2018 World Cup champion Spain on the same day.

Quote of the Day

"Today everyone is happy with the three points we've won, so I'd like to switch from tomorrow and move on to the next game."

―Asano, reacting to Japan's performance.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven

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