Players from the Japan National Team, Samurai Blue, celebrate their upset win against Spain. Photo: twitter.com/jfa_samuraiblue

By MARK LORENZANA

The Japan National Team, known internationally as Samurai Blue, continued to impress in Qatar as it upset Spain on Thursday, Dec. 1, and eliminated Germany in the process.

Japan opened its World Cup campaign with a stunner of a win against Germany on Nov. 23, and subsequently lost a close game to Costa Rica in its second match. But Samurai Blue saved its best for last, against Spain, in a match that saw the Spaniards initially dominating possession in the first half and even scoring early, courtesy of a header by striker Álvaro Morata in the 11th minute.

But fans of La Furia Roja, who expected the team to cruise to an easy victory, would be in for a rude awakening. Japan, which evidently made adjustments during the break, scored promptly in the 48th minute, with Ritsu Dōan finding the net. The winning shot, which made it 2-1 for the Japanese, came from a contentious goal by Ao Tanaka, which appeared on the replays to have gone out of bounds before the shot. A lengthy video review, however, confirmed that the goal was valid.

Group E, which consisted of Japan, Spain, Germany and Costa Rica was chaotic to say the least — especially on the last gameday. While Germany took care of business against a Costa Rican side and won 4-2, with Spain’s loss, the Germans were booted out of the group stage. It’s the second consecutive World Cup that Die Mannschaft failed to reach the round of 16, after getting eliminated in 2018 as the defending champions.

The loss to Japan in their opening game came to haunt the Germans. They were left with no choice but to defeat Costa Rica — which they did — but hope that Japan lost to Spain, which didn’t happen.

It was an entertaining and fast-paced game, however. Die Mannschaft controlled the offense in the first half of the match, taking 71 percent of the possession. German winger Serge Gnabry gave his team an early 1-0 lead in the 10th minute via a header.

But Costa Rica refused to give up. Los Ticos tied the game in the 58th minute, when Yeltsin Tejeda buried a rebound into the back of the net. Juan Pablo Vargas then gave the Costa Ricans a 2-1 lead in the 70th minute, but German midfielder Kai Havertz scored a few minutes later. Forward Niclas Füllkrug then scored the final goal for the Germans.

The early exit for the Germans continued a dramatic fall from grace for the four-time champions, who were on top of the world after winning the 2014 World Cup, but have struggled to reclaim their international soccer dominance ever since.

Japan will look to continue their impressive World Cup run against Croatia in the round of 16 on Monday, Dec. 5, while Spain will face Morocco on Tuesday.

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