Japan surprise Spain 2-1 to win group, both teams advance

Al Rayyan, Qatar, Dec 1 (EFE).- Spain, who began their World Cup 2022 campaign with a 7-0 drubbing of Costa Rica, ended up needing help from Germany on Thursday to secure their spot in the knockout stage.

For three minutes, Costa Rica led the Germans 2-1 as La Roja trailed eventual group winners Japan by the same margin, a result that would have seen Spain eliminated.

But Die Mannschaft rebounded to down the Ticos 4-2, allowing Spain to advance to the round of 16 as the second-place team in Group E despite their defeat to the Blue Samurai.

Japan will face Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runners-up, in the next round, while Spain are to square off with Group F winners Morocco.

Against the potent Spanish attack, the Japanese opted for defense, going with a five-man back line and ceding the ball to their opponents, who would end the match with 83 percent possession.

Alvaro Morata put Spain up in the 11th minute, heading in a cross from Cesar Azpilicueta for his third goal in three matches.

While keeping their shape, the Japanese grew frustrated as the minutes passed and picked up three yellow cards before the break.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu made two changes to start the second half, bringing in Ritsu Doan and Kaoru Mitoma, and the substitution paid off in the 48th minute, when Doan sent a blast beyond the reach of Spain keeper Unai Simon to bring his side level.

Barely a minute later, Ao Tanaka made it 2-1 for the Blue Samurai with an assist from Kitoma. Though the referee initially disallowed the goal for an infraction during the buildup, VAR overruled him.

Spain shifted to a higher gear, yet they went 23 minutes without a shot on target and Japan withstood a late charge from La Roja to win the group. EFE rm/dr

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