The Japan head coach, Hajime Moriyasu, said his side’s determination to qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup meant their “intent manifested as a goal” as their winner was decided by the smallest of margins thanks to the intervention of VAR. The Spain coach Luis Enrique was far from happy, despite a second-placed finish in Group E meaning a potential quarter-final against Brazil is avoided.
The ball had looked out of play to the naked eye when Kaoru Mitoma cut back for Ao Tanaka to score in the 51st minute. But VAR technology, aided by a sensor inside the ball, called the play in and Japan completed a three-minute turnaround, coming from a goal down to beat Spain 2-1.
“Concerning that goal we were just playing to win”, Moriyasu said. “We think that our intent materialised as a goal. There is great technology nowadays for big football matches and if it was really out it would have been a goal kick. The judgment was that it was in and we respected that. We were willing to accept either way, but the final judgment was that it was in.”
Moriyasu dedicated a second shock victory of a chaotic Group E - following a similar comeback over Germany - to the people of Japan as the country became the second side from the Asian Football Confederation after Australia to make the round of 16.
“We played against Spain, one of the best teams in the world, and we knew before the game this was going to be very tough and difficult”, Moriyasu said. “There were many fans who came all way from Japan as well as those at home and our win is also owed to them. We are gifting this win to the people of Japan and we are very happy about it.”
Luis Enrique barked answers in his press conference after his team were ruffled out of their customary possession game and, in Enrique’s words, “dismantled”. He also acknowledged, however, that the route to the final had now changed for his team, due to the second-placed finish in the group.
“I am not happy at all. I never celebrate defeats”, he said. “In football you deserve it or not. Yes we qualified and I would have liked to be top but it was not possible because in five minutes they scored two goals and we were dismantled.
“We didn’t have any danger in the first half, but at half time I told them to be cautious because [Japan] didn’t have anything to lose. But we didn’t have good management, we collapsed and they could have scored two more. Brackets change and many things are different now but I have nothing to celebrate.”