Spain can send Germany home but have no plans to offer Japan a biscuit

A draw could suit Spain and Japan but Luis Enrique and his players insist that a win and topping Group E is their only aim

Dani Carvajal was standing beneath the stand at Al Bayt Stadium, talking to journalists in the mixed zone when his Real Madrid clubmate Antonio Rüdiger appeared, sidled up to him and whispered something in his ear, laughing as he left. There was a smile and then the words were revealed, exactly as everyone imagined. “Yes, yes,” the Spain full-back said. “He told me to beat Japan.”

Spain and Germany had just drawn, leaving everything open for the final round of games. The selección had played well for an hour but then lost control after taking the lead, saw Niclas Füllkrug score an equaliser, and in the end might even have been beaten, Luis Enrique admitted. Ultimately, though, the manager insisted that Spain were in a good position: “Top of the group of death, the only group that got ‘oohs’ when the draw was made.”

All four teams could still progress. Spain still need a point to go through, while a win would guarantee top spot. Although they are bottom, Germany could go through if they beat Costa Rica, but here’s the thing: they would need Japan to lose to Spain. If the other game ends in a draw, Germany would need to win by at least two goals against Costa Rica or by a single-goal margin so long as they score more than Japan do against Spain.

It was a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

If that sounds complicated, strip it all away and it’s simple: as Rüdiger said, Germany could really, really do with Spain beating Japan. He was not the only one either. Dani Olmo was laughing too, revealing that his RB Leipzig teammate David Raum had made the same request.

A couple of days before their second group game, when they knew a win would qualify them with a game to spare, the Spain midfielder Carlos Soler said it was not just about getting through, although that was what mattered most; it was also an opportunity to knock Germany out. He had nothing against them. There was no dislike, not even a rivalry, just a reality. It would, in truth, be better not to have to face them again.

That opportunity was not taken, but it presents itself again now. Well, sort of. It is different now. Last time it came as a consequence of winning; this time it would come as a consequence of not winning. Nor is it clearcut, the combinations too complex for that, both from Spain’s point of view and Japan’s. But it has not gone unnoticed that a draw between Spain and Japan could mean both going through at Germany’s expense.

Spain manager Luis Enrique talks to Sergio Busquets during the draw with Germany
Luis Enrique may choose to rest Sergio Busquets against Japan as he is a booking away from a suspension. Photograph: Xinhua/Shutterstock

Those combinations, the possibility of in effect having a mutually beneficial pact to put someone else out, is the reason the final group-stage games are played simultaneously. That change was prompted by what has become known as the Disgrace of Gijón, when West Germany and Austria conspired to play out a 1-0 win for the former to send both sides through and knock Algeria out of the 1982 World Cup. Gijón is Luis Enrique’s home city, and he was 12 at the time. He didn’t go, but he did try to get in.

A biscotto, they call it: a biscuit. Sometimes that’s the way the cookie crumbles. But not this time. Luis Enrique said tiredness was becoming a factor and it was notable that he mentioned Sergio Busquets having a yellow card that puts him a booking away from suspension. There is another element, too: finishing second rather than first might even be beneficial, if you consider potentially avoiding Brazil in a quarter-final to be a good thing. But the coach insisted Spain would play to win, no matter what. And indeed, amid all the speculation it has been forgotten that they could still go out. As for Japan, a draw offers no guarantees. A win for them and Spain would be in trouble.

“[Rüdiger] told me to beat Japan; there are no doubts that we will go out to win,” Carvajal said. “We want to be top, we want to win every game and we will do everything we can to achieve that.”

Olmo agreed: “We always want to win. If we win we will be in the last 16, and that’s what we want. Today was a pity but we will keep trying. The feeling is bittersweet. We lost control after the goal, and lost balls that we don’t usually lose. We have to be calmer and keep longer spells of possession, play the way we always try to do.”

For Germany, there was a reprieve. Costa Rica’s surprise win over Japan and their equaliser against Spain gives them an opportunity, even if they may need help from clubmates. “If you look at the 90 minutes, a draw is OK and of course we take it: now everything is about the last game,” Ilkay Gündogan said. “The disappointment was huge after that first game, even [for] me personally to be honest. The day after, even the second day after, it felt like it was unnecessary. Getting a good result was crucial for us today.”

The Manchester City midfielder also explained why Germany had not repeated their protest from the first match, when they had posed for the team picture with their hands over their mouths, after Manuel Neuer as captain was banned from wearing the OneLove armband. “We had a few players who are mad with Fifa because there were things planned from the team and then [with] this getting disallowed just before the game, a few players were disappointed and frustrated and wanted to show something. We had a discussion in the team and it got decided that we will do the gesture against Fifa,” he said.

“Honestly, my point of view is that now the politics is finished. Qatar is very proud, the country is proud to host the World Cup, it’s the first Muslim country – I come from a Muslim family – so the Muslim community is proud. So I think it is now about football, enjoying it.”


Sid Lowe in Doha

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Flick flies solo to defy Fifa as Germany prepare for crucial Spain clash
Manager breaks rules by handling press duties alone as his players look to bounce back from shock defeat against Japan

Andy Hunter in Doha

26, Nov, 2022 @5:02 PM

Article image
Germany cling to World Cup hopes after Niclas Füllkrug forces Spain draw
Niclas Füllkrug equalised for Germany after Álvaro Morata’s opener for Spain as 1-1 draw left everything hanging on Group E’s final games

Sid Lowe at Al Bayt Stadium

27, Nov, 2022 @9:18 PM

Article image
No strikers bad, two strikers good, as Spain and Germany share the spoils | Barney Ronay
There were no goals until Álvaro Morata and Niclas Füllkrug came on, changing the scoreline if not the outcome

Barney Ronay at Al Bayt Stadium

27, Nov, 2022 @10:17 PM

Article image
Japan shock Spain in dramatic style to send Germany tumbling out of World Cup
Japan came back from a goal behind to beat Spain 2-1 with goals from Ritsu Doan and a controversial winner from Ao Tanaka

Paul MacInnes at Khalifa International Stadium

01, Dec, 2022 @9:12 PM

Article image
Germany’s Hansi Flick takes heart from hard-fought point against Spain
The Germany manager Hansi Flick said: ‘Maybe this will give us self-confidence to score,’ while Luis Enrique paid tribute to his late daughter on her birthday

Ben Fisher at Al Bayt Stadium

27, Nov, 2022 @10:59 PM

Article image
Luis Enrique says Spain have no plans to manipulate draw and avoid Brazil
Whoever wins Group E could face Brazil in the quarter-final but Spain’s coach has targeted top spot, saying: ‘To win a World Cup, you have to beat everyone’

Sid Lowe in Doha

30, Nov, 2022 @3:56 PM

Article image
Spain 1-1 Germany: World Cup 2022 – as it happened
Álvaro Morata put Spain ahead before substitute Niclas Füllkrug earned a late point, though Germany’s fate remains out of their hands. Scott Murray was watching.

Scott Murray

27, Nov, 2022 @9:22 PM

Article image
Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu hails ‘historic moment’ of win over Germany
Japan’s manager Hajime Moriyasu has said his side’s remarkable comeback victory over Germany is a ‘historic moment’ for the country

Jamie Jackson at Khalifa International Stadium

23, Nov, 2022 @6:09 PM

Article image
Simón plays Spain into trouble as Japan turn World Cup upside down again | Sid Lowe
Hajime Moriyasu’s Japan won a game that seemed way beyond them in a wild and extraordinary group decider with Unai Simón playing Spain into trouble

Sid Lowe at Khalifa International Stadium

01, Dec, 2022 @10:22 PM

Article image
Germany must ‘put foot on accelerator’ in crunch Spain game, admits Havertz
Kai Havertz has said Germany had ‘a fruitful exchange of views’ after their shock World Cup defeat by Japan

Jamie Jackson in Doha

25, Nov, 2022 @10:58 AM