Japan stunned four-time world champions Germany 2-1 in a Group E match at the Khalifa International Stadium in Qatar on Wednesday. It was the second big upset of the tournament after Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina by an identical score on Tuesday.
It was also Germany’s second successive defeat in the World Cup after their 0-2 loss to South Korea in a group match at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and their third loss in their last four.
Ilkay Gundogan scored from a penalty in the 33rd minute to put Germany ahead, but Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano scored in the 75th and 83rd minutes, respectively, to secure the 3 points for the Blue Samurais.
On that note, here’s a look at three things that stood out in the match:
Germany attacked down left a lot with Raum catching the eye
Germany started the match with their customary 4-2-3-1 formation, but with regular centre-back Niklas Sule playing as the right-back. The formation soon became a 3-4-2-1 with Sule as the right-sided centre-back and Serge Gnabry as the right wing-back.
As a result, the Germans relied a lot on left wing-back Raum to provide width to their attack and the 24-year-old did not disappoint.
He was the primary creative outlet for Germany during the initial half-hour and repeatedly made forays into the final third out wide and through the left channel. He was ably helped by 19-year-old Jamal Musiala, who impressed with his agility and dribbling.
Japan, meanwhile, defended deep and relied almost solely on fast counter-attacks to put pressure on Germany. They also made a few vital interceptions in the middle third to frustrate the Germans. The Japanese also succeeded in putting the ball into the net once from the counter, but it was disallowed as the player was already offside.
Germany’s defensive mids fire away after Gnabry shift
For the initial 25 minutes or so, Germany could hardly launch any attack through the right. However, Thomas Muller drifted to the right flank more frequently to combine with Gnabry and the latter started switching inside with the ball on his feet, putting the Japanese defense under pressure.
The Germans played with a high defensive line as the first half progressed after initial reluctance to do so, keeping in mind Japan’s counter-attacking threat.
Around the half-hour mark, Gnabry cut inside with the ball before dropping it off to Joshua Kimmich, who played a cross into the box for an onrushing Raum. With the ball under Raum’s control, the Japanese goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda fouled him from behind and a penalty was awarded.
Gundogan made no mistake in converting from the spot to put Germany ahead. Gundogan could have scored more, but a few of his shots from just outside the penalty box were saved by Gonda.
Kimmich also had a shot of his blocked by the Japanese defenders, as the German forwards kept creating shooting space for their midfielders with their intelligent one-touch passing.
The Germans kept spreading the ball all around the pitch with their adroit passing after the goal, but Daizen Maeda came close for Japan with a header that missed the target narrowly in the dying moments of the first half.
Japan stun Germans with double strike in second half
Germany switched to a back four again at the start of the second half. Musiala played the role of the No. 10 to perfection with his quick dribbling. He could have had an assist with a bit more luck.
Raum, who Japan kept a close eye on throughout the second half, then delivered a cross to Gnabry, whose header was saved by Gonda. Gundogan took yet another shot from outside the box that rattled the post before bouncing away.
Then, Hansi Flick made a double substitution that altered the course of the match. He took off Gundogan and Muller in favor of Leon Goretzka and Jonas Hofmann, respectively, when it might have been better to replace Kai Havertz with Goretzka in an attempt to strengthen the midfield. That would have allowed Gnabry to play as the false nine.
Instead, Gnabry switched to the left flank and Hofmann served as the right winger, but the latter had little impact on the match as Germany lacked Gundogan’s calming influence in the midfield.
Meanwhile, Japan’s substitutions tormented the Germans with their blistering pace. There were a number of long balls that the German defenders struggled to deal with due to the speed of the Japanese.
Manuel Neuer denied Asano with a brilliant one-handed save, but then could not prevent Japan from equalizing as Doan scored from a rebound.
Asano then beat Nico Schlotterbeck with sheer pace with a surging run to get hold of a long ball played to him from a free-kick and he scored past Neuer through the near post to put Japan ahead.
Germany brought on Mario Gotze, Niclas Fullkrug and Youssoufa Moukoko, but could not prevent yet another heart-breaking loss at the biggest stage.