After one football giant floundered, another is flexing its muscles.
Germany joined Argentina has shock first-up losers when it fell to Japan 2-1 early on Thursday morning.
But Spain is making no mistakes, pumping five goals and counting past Costa Rica.
The final match of the morning sees Canada end a 36-year absence from the tournament against Morocco.
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Another boilover: Japan beats Germany
Once the opening whistle blew after the protest we mentioned earlier, the first half of Germany’s match against Japan proceeded much as expected, with the heavyweight team dominating possession and territory to take a 1-0 advantage into the break.
The Germans’ sense of comfort would not last.
Japan did have some bright moments on the counterattack in the first period, and had a goal denied for an admittedly blatant offside in the eighth minute.
Germany’s best early chance came in the 17th minute, when Antonio Rudiger rose above the defenders at a corner to head goalwards, but just missed the target
Shortly before the half hour mark, the Japanese keeper palmed a low cross into the path of Ilkay Gundogan just inside the box, but the German couldn’t thread it through the crowd of bodies in front of goal.
Barely two minutes later, however, the keeper badly mistimed a tackle inside the box, conceding a penalty. Given another, even better chance to score, Gundogan obliged.
There was high drama on the very stroke of halftime. A scrappy sequence of play inside the Japanese box resulted in a tap-in from Kai Havertz, but replays showed he was fractionally in front of the ball from a cross and therefore offside.
Far higher drama awaited in the second half.
The Germans’ lead suddenly evaporated in the 75th minute, as Neuer, the goalkeeper, pushed a cross into the path of Japan’s Ritsu Doan, who fired home an equaliser from six yards out.
Eight minutes later, the unthinkable happened: Takuma Asano sped into the box, one-on-one with a defender, and blasted the ball into the roof of the net from close range, giving Japan the lead.
Germany’s desperate attempts to regain parity went nowhere in the dying minutes, and Japan sealed the second major boilover of the tournament so far, following Argentina’s loss to Saudi Arabia.
“It’s another outrageous result here in Qatar,” commentator Martin Tyler said in near disbelief at the full time whistle. He wasn’t wrong.
Top team’s blunt message to FIFA
One of the World Cup favourites, Germany, sent an unmistakable message to FIFA before its match against Japan, signalling its displeasure at being silenced by football’s governing body.
Every player in the German starting lineup covered his mouth at the team photo in protest of FIFA’s edict preventing captain Manuel Neuer from wearing a One Love armband in support of LGBTQ rights.
Host nation Qatar’s treatment of the LGBTQ community has been the subject of immense international criticism since it was awarded the tournament years ago.
Earlier this week FIFA threatened to punish any team using the rainbow-themed armbands to voice support for gay rights by sanctioning their captain with a yellow card – a measure that, if applied consistently, could lead to star players being suspended during the tournament.
Germany was among several teams that backed down from plans to wear the armbands. Clearly, the players aren’t happy about it.
“It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t the case. That’s why this message is so important to us,” the team said in a statement explaining the gesture.
“Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position.”
Referee blunder puzzles fans
The first half of Morocco v Croatia provided little action at either end – but a bizarre refereeing blunder has kept fans talking.
Morocco had 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia sweating as PSG star Achraf Hakimi burst down the right wing.
But in a moment missed by the referee and his assistant, the ball clearly went out for a goal kick as Hakimi went to fire a cross into the box.
You could easily see the ball had gone out from TV screens, and even the commentator shouted: “That’s well out!”
The chance led to nothing – saving the refereeing team their blushes.
Croatia had the best of the chances of the first half, with the ageless Luka Modric putting a shot just over the bar.
It was about as interesting as it got as the match ended in a scoreless stalemate.
The 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia will rue the loss more than Morocco.
Modric’s Croatia had more of the ball but failed to break down the Morocco defence.
— with AFP