Japan staged a sensational fightback to deal Germany a shock 2-1 defeat in their World Cup opener as Bundesliga players Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano came off the bench to stun the four-time winners.
Germany made headlines by covering their mouths in a pre-match protest against FIFA’s decision to ban Manuel Neuer from wearing the OneLove armband, and they looked set to make a positive start in Group E when Ilkay Gundogan converted a first-half penalty.
Hansi Flick’s side then squandered several golden opportunities to put the game to bed before Freiburg forward Doan made them pay from a rebound 15 minutes from time.
With Germany chasing a winner, there was to be one final twist as Asano raced onto a long ball before firing beyond Neuer, leaving Die Mannschaft under huge pressure ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Spain.
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Germany were saved by the offside flag when Daizen Maeda prodded Daichi Kamada’s early cross home, but Japan were masters of their own downfall when Flick’s team went ahead after 33 minutes.
Goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda committed a clumsy foul on David Raum to hand Germany a spot-kick, which Gundogan coolly converted.
A VAR review denied Germany a second as Kai Havertz tapped home from an offside position after Gonda saved from Joshua Kimmich, before Gundogan hit the base of the post after the restart.
Gonda denied Gnabry three times in quick succession as Germany continued to create chances, but Japan stunned them at the other end as Doan capitalised on a rebound to fire into the roof of the net.
Japan completed the turnaround with seven minutes left as Niklas Sule’s woeful positioning allowed Asano to stay onside from a long ball, and he hammered beyond Neuer to seal a famous win.
What does it mean? Germany under pressure after collapse
The identity of Germany’s second opponents in Group E – Luis Enrique’s Spain – made a positive result in Wednesday’s opener crucial, but a combination of dire defending and efficient attacking play from Japan cost them three points.
Germany’s loss was their first after building a half-time lead at the World Cup since 1978 (a 3-2 loss to Austria), snapping a run of 21 such games without defeat.
Flick’s team also became the first side since records began to lose a World Cup game when accumulating over three expected goals (xG).
Started from the Bochum now he’s here
Bochum winger Asano has failed to hit the net in six Bundesliga appearances this season, but the 28-year-old changed the game following his 57th-minute introduction at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Despite his limited time on the field, Asano led his team-mates for shots (five) and touches in the Germany area (five), and he showed no sign of nerves when one-on-one with Neuer as he fired Japan to victory.
Blue Samurai strike on the break
Germany were always expected to dictate the tempo in their first major tournament outing under former Bayern Munich coach Flick, and Japan were limited to just 26.2 per cent possession on Wednesday.
That figure is the second-lowest recorded by the winning team in a World Cup match, with South Korea having just 26 per cent when they recorded their own upset against Germany in 2018.
Key Opta Facts:
– Japan picked up their first victory against Germany (D1 L1), with nine of the 10 total goals in this fixture being scored in the second half.
– Germany have lost a World Cup game in which they led at half time for the first time since 1978 (2-3 vs Austria), having gone unbeaten in their previous 21 such matches before today.
– Japan came from behind to win a World Cup match for the very first time, having drawn two and lost 11 of their 13 matches when they had trailed before today.
– Having lost their opening game at just one of their first 18 World Cup tournaments (W13 D4), Germany have lost their first game at each of the last two World Cups.
Germany face Spain in a crucial Group E match on Sunday, while Japan take on Costa Rica on the same day.