It was a nerve-wracking climax to Group ‘E’ on Thursday night, with Spain going through despite losing to Japan, and Germany crashing out despite a 4-2 victory against Costa Rica.
Costa Rica had been under immense German pressure at the Al Bayt Stadium, but found their release two minutes before the hour-mark when Yeltsin Tejada, quickest to react after Manuel Neuer had parried away a header, made it 1-1.
In a game where Frenchwoman Stephanie Frappart became the first female referee to officiate a match at the men’s World Cup, Costa Rican fans went into raptures when Juan Pablo Vargas’ poked them into the lead in the 70th minute. But Germany, who had opened the scoring through Serge Gnabry’s 10th-minute header, levelled matters immediately through Kai Havertz.
Havertz got another goal, steering in a cross from Gnabry with five minutes to go, and Niclas Fuellkrug made it 4-2 in the 89th, but Germany still needed Spain to find a leveller to stay in. That didn’t happen, and Spain went through on goal difference, with Japan clinching the top spot after their 2-1 win over the Spaniards.
Spain had taken the lead through Alvaro Morata’s 11th-minute header, but Japan turned the game on its head with two goals in three minutes; Ritsu Doan first firing them level in the 48th and then Ao Tanaka got the ball over the line to put them ahead.