The Japanese roared their joy and hugged each other in bewilderment. Freiburg goalkeeper Ritsu Doan ran happily across the pitch with a national flag on his back, after which he and his team-mates were celebrated by the Japanese fans dressed all in blue.
The outsider and tournament co-favorite Spain made it into the round of 16 together in a thriller for the group final - and ended the German World Cup dream.
After beating Germany at the start, the Japanese celebrated the next 2-1 (0-1) coup against the 2010 world champions and could hardly believe their luck. The underdog now plays in the first knockout round on Monday against reigning World Cup runners-up Croatia. Coach Luis Enrique's Spanish team is challenged by Morocco a day later.
Alvaro Morata, with his third goal of the tournament (11th minute), gave the initially sovereign Spain the lead in front of 44,851 spectators in Al-Rajjan's Chalifa International Stadium. Joker Ritsu Doan from SC Freiburg managed to equalize (48th), just like against the DFB selection. Shortly thereafter, the jubilation knew no bounds when the Düsseldorf professional Ao Tanaka made it 2-1 (51st).
Lead after eleven minutes
Japan reached the round of 16 like they did four years ago when they were eliminated by Belgium. The Spaniards only showed a sovereign performance in the first half and then were completely surprised. In 2018 they failed in the round of 16 in Russia because of the host team.
"Everyone is talking about a miracle, but I don't see it that way. We became more and more aggressive. I had the feeling that after Germany were 3-2, Spain didn't attack like that anymore," said Freiburg's Tanaka. "We've never been in the quarter-finals, we want to do that now." Tanaka had little sympathy for the Germans. "This is football." Spain's Cesar Azpilicueta was disappointed. "We always give everything. We always go out there to win. Sometimes we've been punished. We're disappointed with the loss."
In view of the comfortable starting position, Luis Enrique rotated powerfully and changed his team to five positions. Among other things, the 52-year-old brought on the young professionals Alejandro Balde (19) for the previously strong left-back Jordi Alba and Nico Williams (20) in attack. RB Leipzig's Dani Olmo started for the third time in the tournament, this time alongside Morata. The Atlético Madrid striker justified his first start in Qatar after just 11 minutes - when he headed in a cross from Cesar Azpilicueta to open the scoring.
In the midfield of the Spaniards, Gavi again diligently pulled the strings: the 18-year-old from FC Barcelona played from the start, although he was injured after the 1-1 draw against Germany. The Japanese often just rushed behind in the first half. Stuttgart professional Wataru Endo and Freiburg's Doan, who scored as a joker in the 2-1 win against Germany, had to watch from the bench.
Too imprecise, too hectic
The efforts of the Japanese, whose coach Hajime Moriyasu had apologized for the momentous defeat against Costa Rica, to do better this time could not be denied: But the few offensive actions were simply too imprecise and hectic. Until half-time, then everything suddenly changed with two changes: Joker Doan brought in momentum like against Germany and completed his first scene powerfully to equalize. Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon looked surprised and reacted too late.
But that's not all, because the Japanese kept storming on. Kaoru Mitoma, as the second joker, scratched a ball from the left into the middle, where second division professional Tanaka completed it. Referee Victor Gomes from South Africa spent several minutes checking whether the ball had fully crossed the goal line - then the whistle sounded: goal! Huge cheers broke out in the Blue Samurai camp, the Asians were suddenly the group winners, which was superimposed on the stadium display.
Spain escaped with a fright
Enrique had seen enough and substituted his top storm: Marco Asensio and Ferran Torres should now do what Morata and the disappointing youngster Nico Williams couldn't: a second goal, because suddenly Spain had to worry about progressing given the dynamic constellation . What looked like the expected course of events after a quarter of an hour suddenly turned into a football thriller with the participation of two former world champions.
Spain brought more and more quality from the bench, but the Japanese looked well organized after the break - much was reminiscent of the opening game, when Moriyasu's team was also defeated for a long time and then the game suddenly tipped over. When Costa Rica also turned the game against Germany, Spain slipped briefly from one to three. But that also changed quickly. Spain escaped unscathed once again.