20221201 japan Ao
Japan's Ao Tanaka celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Spain, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar. Image Credit: AP

DOHA: Japan pulled off another surprise during this exciting World Cup, shocking Spain with a 2-1 comeback victory and taking first place in Group E, which eliminated Germany and Costa Rica.

After taking the lead early on, thanks to a header from Alvaro Morata, Spain appeared to have complete control at the interval.

However, Japan quickly turned the game around at the opening of the second half when substitute Ritsu Doan equalised and Ao Tanaka scored again.

The latter goal was upheld after a protracted VAR review since it appeared the ball had left the field.

Japan had started their campaign with a surprise victory against Germany before losing to Costa Rica.

The Spaniards continued to dominate possession and although it looked only a matter of time before they would open up the Japan defence again, there were no more goals ahead of the break.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu made a double change for the second half, with Brighton midfielder Kaoru Mitoma and Doan sent on for Yuto Nagatomo and Takefusa Kubo.

The changes made an instant impact as Japan equalised three minutes after the restart.

Spain were caught trying to play out from the back as Freiburg winger Doan picked up possession just outside the penalty area and drilled a shot past Unai Simon, who could only palm the ball into the top left corner.

Japan completed another remarkable turnaround when they took the lead in the 51st minute.

Doan was again involved as his low cross went right through the six-yard box and was cut back in by Mitoma from the goal-line at the far post, with Tanaka bundling the ball home.

A lengthy VAR check followed and officials eventually ruled the whole of the ball had not crossed the line – a decision which sparked pandemonium among the now jubilant Samurai Blue faithful.

Spain boss Luis Enrique reacted by replacing Morata with Marco Asensio and sending on Ferran Torres for Nico Williams.

Spain pushed for an equaliser and Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda made a smart reaction save to push away a low drive from Asensio before then collecting Dani Olmo’s angled shot at the near post as Japan celebrated another remarkable victory and a place in the last 16.

Cheers, tears

At home, Japan erupted in cheers and tears after the national team's 2-1 win over Spain early on Friday, with crowds packing public viewing areas in the pre-dawn cold shrieking with joy as they stunned another global football power at the World Cup.

Japan, who had also shocked Germany in their opener in Qatar, finished top of Group E to reach the last 16, a stage where they have faltered three times before.

They will play 2018 runners-up Croatia for a place in the quarter-finals.

"Doha Delights Again!" one newspaper headlined its online edition, evoking memories of what the media called the "Miracle in Doha" after Japan's win over the Germans.

Fans chanting "Nippon" poured into Tokyo's iconic Shibuya crossing before sunrise, jumping up and down and shouting "Fight, fight, fight!" as police struggled to control the crowd.

"I never thought Japan would advance first place in the group. Thank you Japan! I love you guys!" said 19-year-old Yusei Sato, wearing Japan's Samurai Blue national team jersey.

Takuya Kudo, 23, was in tears as soon as he saw Japan win.

"I'm just so happy," he said. "Honestly, I never thought Japan would do this well. I'm just really thrilled." Fans lingering in Shibuya pressed high-fives on bleary commuters making their way to work from one of Tokyo's busiest stations.

'Samurai Blue'

Social media exploded with joy, exulting "Samurai Blue!" and "Came from behind to win!," with some fans posting manga-style drawings of a cheering player in a team uniform.

Another posted a cartoon of three dragons draped in national flags. The Japanese dragon was roaring while the Spanish dragon eyed Germany, which looked befuddled.

Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka's tribute was a manga-style depiction of the Japanese team, while even Elon Musk tweeted, "Congratulations, Japan!" The sense of triumph rose even to Japan's normally staid political heights, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida telling reporters the win was "historic" and telephoning Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu and Japan Football Association President Kozo Tashima to offer congratulations.

"I told them they gave the Japanese people courage and energy," Kishida said on Twitter. "We are looking forward to the last 16. Fight on, Japan!"

Japan and Morocco advance to knockout stage as Belgium and Germany crash out

Japan and Morocco produced memorable results on Thursday to advance to the knockout stage of the World Cup.

Morocco cruised past Canada to top Group F and will play against Group E runners-up Spain in the final 16. And Japan's come-from-behind win sees them face off against Group F runners-up Croatia.

Meanwhile, Belgium's golden generation seemed to have come to an end after a lacklustre 0-0 draw against Croatia earlier in the day. Germany, who beat Croatia 4-2, will miss the knockout stage for the second World Cup running.

Groups G and H will close out group play on Friday. Brazil, Portugal, Cameroon and Ghana will all be in action.

Germany were knocked out of the World Cup for the second time in succession at the group stage, despite a 4-2 victory against Costa Rica on Thursday.