Japan produced another stunning upset at the 2022 World Cup to reach the knockout stages as group winners with a 2 - 1 win over former European and World champions Spain.
Despite the defeat, courtesy of second-half goals from Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka, Spain did still sneak through to the knockout stages in second place.
Luis Enrique’s side were dominant throughout the first half, taking an early lead through Alvaro Morata, the Atletico Madrid striker heading home a brilliant cross from Cesar Azpilicueta.
For the rest of the first-half, Spain were utterly dominant, having 83% of the first-half possession.
To make matters worse for Japan, all three of their central defenders were shown yellow cards before the break.
After the break though, Japan were absolutely astonishing.
They equalised less than three minutes after the restart, following an error from Unai Simon. Spain’s goalkeeper was closed down and couldn’t clear beyond the edge of the penalty area.
Ritsu Doan, one of the heroes against Germany, then hit a shot straight at Simon but the Bilbao goalkeeper pushed the shot straight into his own net.
What followed three minutes later was even more stunning, but arguably not for the best.
Doan floated a ball to the back post and, in real-time, it appeared to go out before it was played back into the middle.
It was turned in by Ao Tanaka from two yards out but the goal was immediately ruled out by the officials.
After a long VAR check however, the goal was given. Yet even now, over an hour after the goal, FIFA still haven’t released the angle they used on the VAR check to determine that the ball was in.
Controversy aside, Japan were excellent. They came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders after the break and scored two quick goals, at least one of them legitimate.
The two goals were so close together in fact, the J-League had to tweet about them both at once.
Spain did try to respond but some bizarre substitutions from Luis Enrique, including bringing off their only natural striker Alvaro Morata, didn’t give them enough to equalise.
Dani Olmo had the best of the chances in the 89th of 97 minutes but put his effort straight at Shuichi Gonda.
On an incredible night of World Cup football, all four teams in the group were heading through and heading out at one point during the games.
In the end, Germany’s 2 - 4 win over Costa Rica in the other game meant that Spain qualified on goal difference as a result of their 7 - 0 win over the North Americans earlier in the tournament.
Germany would’ve needed Spain to take some points off of Japan, and are therefore out at the group stages for the second World Cup in a row.
Spain didn’t exactly seem desperate to find themselves a goal, which may hint at the fact that they’d rather play Morocco than Croatia.
The date with the 2018 finalists instead goes to group winners Japan, arguably a more difficult game than 2010 champions Spain will face against Morocco.
Japan won’t care one bit about that though, and why should they? They’ve beaten two of the last three World Champions already.
For the second World Cup in a row, the Japanese are through to the knockout stages and they’ll meet one of the best teams in the tournament as a reward.
The fact that they’ve come from behind to be Germany and Spain in the group stages makes them a team to fear.
The drama at the Khalifa International Stadium was simply incredible, this without even considering the remarkable scenes in the Germany game.
If nothing else, this game was an incredible advert for World Cup football. Spain were in complete control at the break, and found themselves behind six minutes into the second-half.
The night well a truly belongs to Japan though, who book themselves a place not only in the 2022 knockout stages, but also a place in World Cup history.