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Japan upends Germany in Qatar, and another World Cup darling is born

Japan players celebrate their team's win over Germany on Wednesday. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

DOHA, Qatar — A World Cup in a controversial place has begun compiling some theatrical soccer, a notion reinforced early Wednesday evening at just about the time Japan’s reserves went charging out to the pitch in their yellow vests for a mad victory celebration so giddy you might have wanted to join had it not entailed severe trespassing violations.

Japan’s 2-1 win over Germany from a 1-0 deficit did not match the far-fetched wonder of Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 win over Argentina on Tuesday, but it did lend the World Cup another darling. It happened after a plodding first half gave way to a riveting second, the matter decided with booming goals on 75 minutes and 83 minutes by Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano, who play their club soccer in Germany, as do six of their teammates. And it brought the joy of an upheaval to a Japan that exited Russia 2018 in one of those nightmares sports can dole, a 2-0 lead in the round of 16 fizzled to a 3-2 ouster against Belgium.

It also re-upped the self-analysis of another team that knew bad dreams in 2018, that being the longtime World Cup empire of Germany, the four-time winner whose dismissal in that group stage represented its poorest World Cup showing in merely eight decades.

Next, Germany will play Spain from a Group E position of zero points.

Nice.

Fans of the German national soccer team were stunned on Nov. 23 by Japan’s 2-1 comeback win in the group stage game at the 2022 Qatar World Cup. (Video: Reuters)

“Yes, I believe it’s historic,” Japan Manager Hajime Moriyasu said, “a historic victory to say the least, if I may.” He saw his program as “reaching to the global standard, and also Saudi Arabia, we are showing our capability, for Asian football.” He spoke of the development of Japanese football by praising Germany’s Bundesliga, saying of his players based there: “They are fighting at a very strong, tough, prestigious league, so they’ve been building up their strength. So in that context, we believe that these leagues have been contributing for the development of Japanese players, and I respect that.”

World Cup live updates

“This is our first step,” goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda said, soon adding: “I think Japan has our own character. We would like to play together,” noting that “everybody got together, and we could do it together.”

“A big disappointment, of course,” said Germany Manager Hansi Flick, who had helmed only one loss in 15 previous matches since he took the job in August 2021. He said: “2018, I was not part of that team, and I don’t really care to be honest with you. I’m looking to the future.”

With the fresh sight of old faces such as goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and ex-wunderkind Thomas Müller, both in their fourth World Cups, and their status as an eternal threat even while a sixth and quiet wagering choice here, the Germans began by making a gesture in the ongoing global discussion about the human rights record of host Qatar. They posed for their team picture with hands covering mouths, a comment on FIFA’s decision to prevent rainbow armbands for captains as acts of protest. Their program tweeted that human rights were “non-negotiable,” and Flick said later, “It was a sign, a message, that we wanted to send out to convey the message that FIFA is silencing us.”

Then they flashed their youth, such as 19-year-old budding star Jamal Musiala, in getting a 1-0 lead on 33 minutes. It happened on Ilkay Gündogan’s penalty after Gonda emerged from the goal and bumped into David Raum in the box mildly, decided that wasn’t enough and opted for pretty much a takedown.

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That 1-0 held for the rest of the first half and the first chunk of the second, all while Khalifa International Stadium seemed relatively drowsy but for a tireless block of Japanese fans with the durable lungs to sing all game long from one corner, including a chant to the tune of “The Entertainer.” The rest of the stadium stayed snoozy until the second half started filling with peppered shots, lunging saves and clanged posts. On 69 minutes, Germany loosed a little barrage on the Japan goal that asked Gonda to make four saves in a blur.

He made — goodness — four saves in a blur, and the booms started coming from the other side. Japan, its offense mostly toothless in its rare possessions through the early stages, had begun hinting it might be capable of more. More came.

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Not more than three minutes after Hiroki Sakai skied a howler over the goal from right out in front, causing groans, Moriyasu’s substitutions started lighting up the field with sparks.

Takumi Minamino, who entered on 74 minutes, barely had time to start sweating before he directed a fine pass from well atop the box on 75 minutes to the low left to Kaoru Mitoma, who had entered on 57 minutes. Mitoma sent a ball across the goalmouth that Neuer lunged to deflect with his left hand, leaving him prone when it caromed to Doan, who had entered on 71 minutes and now had a goal smashed into the top.

With that, the momentum went from swaying to surging, and Germany began to look uncertain, and soon a long ball went down the right side to Asano for something really rowdy. Asano, who had entered on 57 minutes, ran along into the box from the right on 83 minutes with enough defense from Nico Schlotterbeck that it looked like something between dancing and wrestling. No matter, because Asano plowed along anyway, until Neuer appeared in front of him and Schlotterbeck beside him to make it a wow when he reached the last possible angle from the right side and banged a beauty up into the inner roof.

The stadium had awakened, and the reserves were about to go storming.

World Cup in Qatar

Live updates: The last eight teams to make their debuts in Qatar take the field Thursday in Group G and Group H games. Follow along for the latest news, updates and highlights.

USMNT: In their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The U.S. men’s national team will face a taller task Friday against Group B favorite England, which demolished Iran, 6-2, earlier Monday.

Qatar controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, have said they were refused entry into World Cup stadiums and confronted by members of the public to remove the emblem.

Groups guide: The U.S. men’s national soccer team, led by Coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement from its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a close look at how all of the teams in each group stack up.

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