As Japan’s players attempted to take stock in the immediate aftermath of their 2-1 victory over Germany, they gathered close to the touchline.
Arm in arm, they each looked above to one of the two big screens inside the Khalifa International stadium. They were watching the highlights of the second half and, in video form, just how they managed to turn it around. They had achieved the best result in their nation’s history.
The substitutes and backroom staff joined in to form one mass huddle. They had been stood alongside manager Hajime Moriyasu in the final throes, screaming and clapping furiously.
A big, bellowing roar came after captain Maya Yoshida, in the 97th minute, managed to get his head on a cross to deflect it away from Manuel Neuer, who was trying to make a nuisance of himself in the attacking box. The goalkeeper encapsulated the German desperation late on.
Japan supporters were an ocean of bouncing blue, waving joyously and providing a timely reminder of why, even in the most sterile environments and under-capacity stadiums, the exuberance of tournament upsets is unparalleled. They would later help clean up litter, using blue see-through bin bags to collect any waste.
Meanwhile, back in their country, locals celebrated by the Shibuya Crossing — the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing — when the lights turned green. Others, in their homes, were filmed crying in disbelief.
The Shibuya Crossing celebrating Japan’s famous win over Germany! ?? pic.twitter.com/Har7F0hfiA
— Fútbol Romantics (@FutbolRomantics) November 23, 2022
Two goals in the space of eight minutes saw Japan overturn Germany’s advantage after Ilkay Gundogan scored from the spot and, in what bore an eerie resemblance to Argentina’s ruled-out first-half goals against Saudi Arabia, Kai Havertz had a second disallowed for offside.
Moriyasu made two inspired substitutions during the second half, wanting his side to play with the type of verve and gusto he wanted from the outset. Both Ritsu Doan and the former Arsenal player Takuma Asano scored, punishing their counterpart’s profligacy and illuminating how the previously untypical German softness had become typical in both boxes.
“We wanted to start playing aggressively and dominate the game, but our opponents pressed us high up the pitch and made it difficult,” said Moriyasu. “We knew how good Germany are and that we would have to be persistent in defence and patient for opportune moments. We were well prepared.
“At half-time, I told them we might be behind but we need to be tough until the last minute, the last whistle. We could have conceded a few more but in the end, we scored more than them. And they weren’t just counter-attacks. We scored with good build-up play and showed our quality.”
Moriyasu admitted it was the most significant result in Japan’s history, suggesting the far-reaching consequences it can have on football in Asia. In a much broader sense, as Moriyasu would echo, there has been a shift in mentality within the perceived inferior teams in Qatar. It was first exhibited by Saudi Arabia and Morocco, the latter making attacking substitutions in efforts to take all three points against Croatia.
“We are reaching that global standard,” Moriyasu said. “We saw Saudi Arabia’s surprise win and we have again shown how strong Asian football’s standard is.
“I believe it’s a historic moment, a historic victory. And if I think about the development of Japanese football, how we’ve built up from modest beginnings, then yes, Germany has contributed. So many great players and coaches have contributed and helped us. Japan won today but we’re going to continue to learn from Germany and the rest of the world.”
Shuichi Gonda, player of the match and the goalkeeper who, at one-nil down and despite giving away the penalty, pulled off four saves in one passage of play.
Germany failed to kill off Japan, known to raise their game on the biggest stages, and he was a large reason why. Gonda made eight saves in total, with Japan’s rearguard on hand to clear up any residue. They made 38 clearances, 30 more than Germany.
As he ventured over to the cameras and started his media duties, Gonda shouted “bravo!” three times, each one louder. The passion was plain to see.
“We would like to go further in this tournament,” said Gonda, once he had composed himself. “Our goal is to get to the quarter-finals and this is the first step. We’re very pleased with the win but we have another game against Costa Rica soon and we must do our best again. We have our own character as a team and we play together.”
Next up, Costa Rica. The team that were obliterated in a 7-0 defeat to Spain a few hours later. Travelling back to their team hotel, Japan’s players would have seen the result and realised just how big an opportunity they have to progress into the last 16 and inflict the final, damaging blow on Germany.
(Top photo: David Ramos – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)