Takuma Asano caps Japan’s second-half fightback to leave Germany stunned

Germany led 1-0 at half-time through Ilkay Gündogan’s penalty but Japan hit back in the final 15 minutes to win 2-1 with goals from Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano

Japan’s first victory against Germany sent a seismic jolt through the World Cup and was reward for the courage shown by Hajime Moriyasu. The Japan coach wrested this Group E opener his side’s way with a series of second‑half substitutions that transformed the contest and consigned Germany to defeat in their opening World Cup match for a second consecutive tournament.

Four years ago in Russia a Hirving Lozano strike gave Mexico a famous win against the four-time champions. On Wednesday it was Takuma Asano of the Bundesliga’s Bochum who sent the vocal Japanese fans at Khalifa International Stadium into ecstasy along with his teammates and the rest of the squad who flooded on to the pitch to celebrate his 83rd‑minute winner.

Asano, one of Moriyasu’s five replacements, took down a floating ball expertly along the right, outmuscled Nico Schlotterbeck and, after racing in on Manuel Neuer’s goal, rifled in, the Germany captain appearing to shy away from throwing his frame squarely in the way.

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Minutes earlier Ritsu Doan, another substitute, had equalised Ilkay Gündogan’s first-half penalty and Doan seemed to have a fair shout for a spot-kick of his own when Antonio Rüdiger bundled him over. Although Germany pressed until the end – Neuer joined one attack in added time – they could not break down the blue wall before them and, after the shock Saudi Arabia victory against Argentina on Tuesday, Qatar 2022 now has this upset, greeted at the final whistle with delirium by Japan. All of this with 26.2% possession, which underlines the truism concerning it being all about what is done with the ball.

Japan had offered an early warning when their speedy right-winger Junya Ito broke along the flank and teed up Daizen Maeda, who scored but was correctly adjudged offside. From this juncture, though, until the hour Germany dominated. From his midfield berth Joshua Kimmich controlled proceedings while Gündogan was in total football mode, decorating the game with his coolly taken penalty and long-range shots and passes, plus a willingness to charge back into his area as he did twice before the break.

Ritsu Doan of Japan scores the equaliser.
Ritsu Doan of Japan scores the equaliser. Photograph: Getty Images

After Shuichi Gonda pushed one David Raum cross directly into Gündogan’s path and he unloaded only for the veteran defender Maya Yoshida to make a superb block, Gündogan’s spot-kick arrived. Gonda twice felled the left‑back in the area – the second time when Raum popped straight back up – and the referee, Iván Arcides Barton Cisneros, awarded the kick. Gündogan beat Gonda and Germany were now at their fluid best, Jamal Musiala’s quick feet and clever distribution from the left adding further swagger to that of Kimmich, Gündogan and Thomas Müller.

In a flash Musiala found space but blazed over, the 19-year-old’s profligacy just one example of what proved so costly. Japan wanted the half-time whistle as Germany were so rampant, with Kai Havertz’s added-time strike rubbed out for offside.

But the whistle came and so did Moriyasu’s fresh introductions, starting with Takehiro Tomiyasu at the break and followed by Kaoru Mitoma and Asano (57 minutes), Doan (71) and Takumi Minamino (74). All were to prove telling as, with an hour gone, suddenly Japan were punching holes in Germany. Before Doan’s equaliser Gonda made a dazzling quadruple save, the first from Jonas Hofmann’s attempt, then from Serge Gnabry who saw a header and two shots repelled by the goalkeeper.

Next, Neuer beat out an Ito volley and the running-in Hiroki Sakai lashed the rebound wildly over before Doan struck. Three substitutes combined: Mitoma fed Minamino whose cross‑shot was palmed by Neuer to Doan, and he smashed the ball into the roof of the net.

Germany were punch-drunk. From the right Ko Itakura swept the ball along his corridor and there was Asano to take over, his surge forward then finish a moment sure to be repeated endlessly both in his homeland and across the world.

Germany were all but gone. In the seven minutes of extra time they screamed for a second penalty when Niclas Füllkrug went down: this was as desperate as the 35-yard attempt from Rüdiger and summed up how bedraggled Hansi Flick’s side had become. At the final whistle Japan were in dreamland and Germany were facing having to beat Spain on Sunday to retain control of thei World Cupr destiny.

All of this occurred after Flick’s players posed for the team photograph with a collective hand‑over‑mouth “gagged” gesture and the German interior minister, Nancy Faeser, wore a OneLove armband – which stands for tolerance, diversity and LGBTQ+ rights – as she sat with Gianni Infantino in a clear act of defiance to the Fifa president and his organisation. It followed the governing body ordering seven European nations, including England, that their captains should not wear the armband.

It will be intriguing to see what stance Harry Kane and his teammates take in their next game – versus the USA on Friday – but this late afternoon in Doha belonged to Japan, headed by Moriyasu, who was applauded into the post-game media briefing by Japanese journalists.

He and his team deserve copious praise. As Gonda said: “I think this Japan team has character. We would like to go to the quarter-final; that is our goal.” Next for them are Costa Rica who, after this display, will not relish Sunday’s meeting.


Jamie Jackson at Khalifa International Stadium

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