Japan have reached the knockout rounds after winning a group with Spain and Germany. No, that’s not a typo. Image: Getty Images
Japan, Germany, Belgium have all done the absurd in different ways today. And that’s before we even get to Morocco to win their group. Let’s kick that pig!
game of the day
Japan 2-1 Spain
I need to go into what Japan has achieved here before going into the basics of the game. They were the only team to lose to Costa Rica. And they won the group. They beat both Germany and Spain and still lost to Costa Rica. On the one hand, it’s totally explainable as Japan are simply better suited to not having the ball and attacking quickly and as directly as possible after losses and mistakes. On the other side of it… what the heck?
For tonight’s game, FotMob only has 18 percent possession for the game while still leading the expected goal tally. Some of that is distorted by the final 10-15 minutes as Spain came to the realization that even losing 2-1 would see both teams progress and playfully tried to find an equaliser. “Oh man, we’re really trying to score here, honestly!” But still, Japan barely touched the ball and won, which was their plan, but still… what the heck?
We’ll go into more detail in the VAR section, but Japan’s winner will remain controversial for a while, especially in Germany, and has echoes of South Korea-Spain in 2002. The problem arises from the fact that it’s not entirely clear what the original one was Call on the field was what there was so and what there wasn’t conclusive enough evidence to overturn is murky. But we return.
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In a way, this was the exact repeat of Japan’s game against Germany. The first half was all Spain as Japan were just too passive and let them have the ball where they wanted it and move it where they wanted it. Alvaro Morata’s opening goal came after an extended period of Spanish pressure and possession and he was basically unmarked in the box to go home.
But one aspect of this World Cup that I should probably elaborate on in the coming days is that it’s the first to be played with five substitutes for each team, which makes a big difference for teams that either want to press wildly or must pursue ethos or a goal. Part of the Brazilian tactic is that their front three can push marginally for 60-70 minutes because manager Tite can replace them all at that point without exhausting his reserve of substitutes.
Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu has now come on twice at half-time, against Germany and Spain, which allowed his front three to go into overdrive and press furiously, and against Spain that resulted in the same either from their goals scored by their two substitutes.
So Japan wins the group, they lulled both Germany and Spain into their net, and congratulations to them for that.
Germany 4-2 Costa Rica
There was an absolutely insane three minutes in that one when Costa Rica went ahead and at that moment they and Japan went on and Spain and Germany went home. But Kai Havertz equalized before the panicked news could reach the Spanish team, so we never saw Spain need to shift into high gear.
Despite scaring the world, Costa Rica also gave the Germans 32 shots and 5.79 goals expected, both numbers that should immediately make you vomit. The Germans clearly knew that their best hope was to close the goal difference with Spain, especially when it turned out that Japan had taken the lead. At worst, Germany would have to make up their goal difference over Japan if Spain bothered to try and level their game. They didn’t manage that, but they increased their goals scored, although it wasn’t going to prove enough.
This is Germany and this is their second straight elimination from the group stage, sandwiches and round of 16 elimination at Euro which will result in quite a big autopsy at home. Their only crime really was falling victim to a few swift Japanese counterattacks and the German defenses are no surprise on the slow side.
Belgium 0 – 0 Croatia
It seems Belgium got exactly what they wanted, which was to stop being together, stop having to play together and be able to all go home. This certainly felt like an inside job after a while as Romelu Lukaku literally couldn’t get in the right direction in the second half, sending Belgium out of the tournament.
Belgium amassed 3.07 xG and didn’t score a single goal. Most of that was thanks to Lukaku, a halftime sub who amassed 1.79 xG alone. Lukaku has barely played for Inter this year due to injury, only appearing for nine minutes in the first two games. Some rustiness is understandable, which might explain why he overlooked this:
Lukaku missed a header a few minutes later that might have gone over the baseline anyway before being crossed to him, but then towards the final whistle he just forgot to finish it somehow:
This goes beyond rust. This is the whole of existence turning into putty.
That doesn’t mean that Belgium earned much as they watched most of their games hard. They spent the first half not conceding a goal as conceding would have meant death, but it was still difficult to figure out what Roberto Martinez was up to. He eventually got Eden Hazard out of the starting line-up and inserted Leandro Trossard, but where he played, where Kevin De Bruyne played (again stationed far right most of the game), where Yannick Carrasco played nobody could tell. It looked like a 4-2-huh-maybe this guy? Not much of a shock that Martinez quit his job before everyone returned to the dressing room.
Canada 1 – 2 Morocco
So we all had Morocco winning the group here, yes? absolutely give me
Morocco ended that before anyone could get their illegal beer. I’d always suspected Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan to be a dumbass and his qualifying sweatpants suggested it. He gave away the first goal by passing the ball straight to Hakim Ziyech when he was already 30 yards from goal, leaving as easy a finish as you can have from 45 yards.
Borjan probably could have done better for Morocco’s second, a low shot he was slow to respond to. Canada fought well after the break to equalize and take their first World Cup point, but like most of the tournament, they just couldn’t find the finishing touches.
Goal of the day: Costa Rica’s second goal was absolutely hilarious and Germany were the best defensively (and I’m always up for a good laugh at Germany) but we like excellence here and Ritsu Doan’s equalizer for Japan is the pick :
Save of the day: I ignored the goalies here for a while, but Keylor Navas’ save deserves a section of its own…
That was almost certainly Navas’ swan song at the World Cup, and that’s how you walk on your shield.
A eulogy for the deceased
Germany – As mentioned above, there will be a lot of navel-gazing in Germany over another early exit. It is questionable how strong the dominance of Munich in the Bundesliga will be, since the part of the national team that comes from there does not attract too many looks against competitive teams. But it can’t be that simple.
In the end, the World Cup can still boil down to just three games and Germany’s can be reduced to the second half against Japan, where they gave up two goals and couldn’t find another. We knew they needed a striker. We knew their defense was slow. The other two results they compiled are more than acceptable. It was a tough draw, it’s a strange World Cup and this departure is probably no essay on the state of German football. Sometimes shit happens. It’s just funny that it’s finally happening to Germany, which has seemed immune for virtually its entire existence.
Costa Rica – They endured the biggest upset of the tournament for three minutes but have now become the only CONCACAF representatives to leave the USA in the second round. In the end they were defeated by both Germany and Spain and caught Japan by surprise. They are a team that needs to be overhauled to a new generation. And they can, because it’s going to be an awfully soft landing for them now. USA, Mexico and Canada will not be in the qualifying process next time, CONCACAF will get extra places thanks to the 48-team tournament in 2026 and they will be the favorites to win one. Life isn’t that bad.
Canada – The other CONCACAF dry stroke. Canada will be disappointed that everything that worked so well for them in qualifying fell apart at the tournament. They gave up just seven goals in 14 games of the last round of Ocho. They’ve given up seven in three games here. Cyle Larin and Jonathan David couldn’t miss qualifying. Nobody scored in this tournament. Stephen Eustaquio’s injury complicated their midfield plans (although Atiba Hutchinson got tire marks on his gut against Croatia), but their manager, who left them outnumbered in the middle against Croatia, was the complete opposite of John Herdman, who was pressing every right button to Birth Canada Mug. It has to be said that every facet of this team just froze when the brightest lights came on.
Belgium – They didn’t want to be there, and now they aren’t. They couldn’t wait to tell you how old they were and that they had no chance of winning, and they were right. They may not have a next generation to hand the team over to now, and they feel like a team that 10 or 15 years from now you’ll be talking about with your friends at the bar and just going, ‘Man, how did they that screwed up ?” Only Roberto Martinez could have the best midfielder in the world in Kevin De Bruyne and decide to build the squad around Eden Hazard, who now only subsists on the training table.
Did VAR screw something up?: Maybe? Japan’s second goal is definitely a strange one. When Ao Tanaka converted the cross to take the lead, it certainly felt like the goal had been ruled out. He stopped celebrating, everyone turned to the referee and the announcers said something about the flag being raised. So it felt like the goal had never been given. If that’s true, where’s the evidence that the ball didn’t go out to knock that down?
Is that enough? Is this?
Or was the goal given and that wasn’t enough to rule it out? It would have helped if the umpires on the field had made a definitive decision instead of waiting for the VAR.
Also, I’m for VAR on offside calls, but this one against Croatia is…well, hard to defend:
Maybe it’s art and you can just read whatever you want into it. I do not know it anymore.