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Kampai! Japan wins by a hair over favorite Spain

by Ron Poblete

Recently updated on December 6, 2022 02:00 pm

Could it really be possible that we will have the first ever Asian country, in the entire 92-year history of the World Cup win football’s ultimate prize? Do you think Japan can pull it off?

It would appear so Friday morning as the Blue Samurais not only defeated tournament favorite and former champion Spain in a swashbuckling performance that left 45,000 fans at Khalifa International Stadium breathless but did it in the finest of margins. 

Photo Courtesy AP

They say it’s a game of inches. Try millimeters. Pundits were aghast by what seemed from available footage that the ball went beyond the goal line before winger Kaoru Mitoma crossed it to Ao Tanaka for the match winning goal from close range.

Photo Courtesy AP

It was called out by the referee before VAR (Video Assistant Referee) overturned the decision to disallow the goal. Former FIFA and Premier League referee Mike Dean concurred with the decision post match and would later on explain that based on the rule, any cylindrical part of the ball that is over the line is considered in play.

This is not obvious in the available footage shown on the broadcast which led to some pundits like former English Club-Liverpool FC player turned pundit Graeme Souness to implore FIFA officials to show actual evidence to appease doubters, most especially 80 million German fans watching it live. 

Nevertheless, the Japanese withstood Spain’s final attempt at a comeback and turned the game as one for the books. 

What makes this even more interesting is that prior to the build up to this game. There have been concerns whether Japan missed its chance when they were defeated by a Costa Rica team beaten thoroughly by Spain, 7 to nil even after a promising start to the tournament with a jaw dropping win over giants Germany.

The thought of having to go through Spain who were playing so well at this point and Germany expected to breeze through Costa Rica for the final match might have made this almost improbable for Japan to get through let alone win the group.

Photo Courtesy FIFA

But that they did, they ended up with 2 wins and a loss getting 6 points out of the possible 9 to top the group while Spain went down to second with 4 points. Germany had 4 points as well by beating Costa Rica 4-2 but didn’t have enough on goal difference and was eliminated before the second round of their 2nd straight World Cup after winning it in 2014.

Spain’s Alvaro Morata celebrates after scoring the opening goal of his team during the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Spain, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Spain led Japan 1-0 at halftime through an Alvaro Morata goal and based on how they were controlling the game, it appeared that it was going to be an uphill battle for Japan to qualify for the next round. 

Photo Courtesy FIFA

Japan would come to life in the second half and played like the warriors that they are. Bamboozling a Spain team trying to get back a foothold of the game.

Finally Japan had a breakthrough with super sub Ritsu Doan doing it again, scoring with a strike on top of the box which the Spain keeper was able to touch with his fingers but too powerful to prevent it from going into the net. The goal tied the game and all momentum was on a Japan side going for broke to win the game. 

In the end, fans were treated to one of the most thrilling games in this Qatar World Cup. Japan will now face the 2018 World Cup Runners Up Croatia in the final 16.  Betting against them overcoming that challenge would be unwise given the form they are in.

Whatever happens from here on end, this has become one of the most memorable World Cups in recent memory and in the end an entire continent not known to produce World Champions might finally be making history.



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