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World Cup 2022: Qatar's unforgettable night of chaos makes mockery of FIFA decision

Mirror 12/1/2022 Colin Millar

The 2022 World Cup has exploded into life. All the drama, the jeopardy, the jubilation and the agony – all four of Group E’s nations experienced all these emotions across an unforgettable two hours.

It was a fitting conclusion to a group which kickstarted with Japan’s shock comeback victory over Germany and Spain’s seven-goal demolition of Costa Rica. The Central American nation’s shock win over Japan had blown the group open, and Germany had kept their hopes alive with a draw against Spain.

It was all on the line going into the final games with Spain leading the group on four points, one point ahead of both Japan and Costa Rica, with a three-point advantage on Germany – over whom they had a vastly superior goal difference.

Despite the delicate situation, it initially appeared that the two European giants would progress relatively serenely. In the tenth minute, Serge Gnabry gave Germany the lead over Costa Rica and two minutes later, Alvaro Morata put Spain in front against Japan.

That was how it stood at half-time, as Hansi Flick’s Germany missed multiple opportunities to extend their lead while Spain appeared to be in complete control. Japan made a double change at the break and within a minute of the restart, one of those substitutes – forward Ritsu Doan equalised for Japan.

Spain were rattled, having let the game drift and their concentration levels had dropped. Six minutes later, remarkably, they were behind. Ao Tanaka scored from point-blank range after the ball had been cut back from the edge of the area.

The ball appeared to be out of play prior to Ao Tanaka's winner for Japan © PA The ball appeared to be out of play prior to Ao Tanaka's winner for Japan

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Initially, it had appeared that the ball had initially gone out of play and several tense minutes passed before it was adjudged that the ball had, by the slenderest of millimetres, not entirely left the field of play.

That was bad news for Spain but even worse for Germany, who knew that only a seven-goal victory over Costa Rica could save them if Japan won. Within minutes, that remote possibility was extinguished as Yeltsin Tejeda – earning his 75th cap for Costa Rica – picked the most remarkable moment to score his first international goal.

Costa Rica temporarily stunned Germany by taking the lead and moving into a top two spot © Getty Images Costa Rica temporarily stunned Germany by taking the lead and moving into a top two spot Hansi Flick's men are out at the group stage - just like Jogi Low's side were in 2018 © Getty Images Hansi Flick's men are out at the group stage - just like Jogi Low's side were in 2018

Three goals across two games in the space of 13 minutes had changed the group entirely; from Spain and Germany progressing, Japan were now in the box seat with Costa Rica one goal away from eliminating the nation who had defeated them by seven goals just 12 days earlier.

12 minutes later and the most incredulous moment of the evening arrived: Juan Pablo Vargas giving Costa Rica the lead against Germany – after the European giants had rattled the woodwork three times. That would not only mean the 2014 winners would be crashing out, but 2010 winners Spain too. There were 20, nail-biting minutes remaining for both Japan and Costa Rica to hold on to their remarkable turnarounds.

Chelsea forward Kai Havertz was introduced by Germany and promptly netted twice to turn the game on its head, with Costa Rica’s remarkable hopes extinguished in a brutal turnaround. Niclas Fullkrug added a fourth in injury time, as Germany won and waited.

The entirety of the German nation was now praying on an equaliser from Spain, but Luis Enrique’s side had lost their way. Dominating possession but unable to break Japan’s low-block, they were restricted to long-range shots. Japan held on and secured one of the greatest moments in their nation’s football history.

Kai Havertz's late double wasn't enough for Germany © Kieran McManus/REX/Shutterstock Kai Havertz's late double wasn't enough for Germany

Former England international goalkeeper Karen Bardsley told BBC Sport: "It was chaos. It was end-to-end stuff between Costa Rica and Germany, it was absolute chaos everywhere. At the end of the day it's a story of chances not taken. Football can be really, really cruel but also really awesome."

Bardsley added: "Germany didn't deserve to go through. There were moments of beautiful football but ultimately they haven't been consistent through the group stages."

For Thomas Muller, Spain's failure couldn't be ignored. "It is unbelievably bitter for us because our result would have been enough," Muller said. "It's a feeling of powerlessness." He added that it was probably his last game for his country, declaring: "If that was my last game for Germany, it was a tremendous pleasure."

Hansi Flick added: “There are so many reasons why we are out but I am not looking to find excuses. I don’t care about different teams, it is all up to us. Unfortunately, there were a lot of individual mistakes and they made me very angry.”

Spain boss Luis Enrique meanwhile hadn't been quite as aware as perhaps he should have been that La Roja were, at one point, on the verge of heading home. "We were out? I didn't know. If I'd realised, I'd probably have had a heart attack!"

His words concluded the most remarkable day of drama that had already seen FIFA’s second-ranked team Belgium crash out of the tournament. It was a high-octane night of seemingly never-ending nerves and drama. Why, oh why, are FIFA ditching this format to switch to three-team groups?

The World Cup remains the greatest sporting event on earth and that is because of the range of emotions, from elation to heartbreak. Bring on the knockouts.

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