KEIR RADNEDGE in DOHA: How are the mighty falling in a remarkable World Cup week for Asian football! Germany led against Japan just as Argentina had led against Saudi Arabia the previous day. Both proud former world champions ended up baffled, bewildered and beaten 2-1.
Germany, four-times World Cup winners, will long have nightmares about Asian opposition. Last time in the finals they ended up slinking out of Russia bottom of their group after defeat by South Korea.
World Cup deja vu was played out in the Khalifa International Stadium as German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer charged upfield in the closing seconds, as he had in Russia, and once more all in vain.
This was perhaps the greatest day in Japanese football history. Better than their third-place finish in the Olympics in 1968. Better than reaching the round of 16 when they played World Cup cohosts in 2002.
To add to the delight, triumph in the opening Group E tie was owed to two late goals from players who earn their living in German football: Freiburg’s Ritsu Doan and Bochum’s Takuma Asano.
Germany’s DFB had sought to avert any repeat of the retreat from Moscow in 2018 by the recruitment of Hansi Flick from Bayern Munich as coach last year to replace 2014 World Cup mastermind Joachim Low.
In opposition a Japanese squad with seven Bundesliga players would have had no problems predicting the pattern of the game: Germany to dominate possession and press for all the considerable amount they were worth while leaving Japan the counter-attack option.
Too far, too fast
Theory was almost converted effectively into practice after only seven minutes.
Japan caught Ilkay Gundogan in possession in their own half and arrowed away for Daizan Maeda to shoot past Neuer. Unfortunately Maeda’s eagerness had launched him too far too fast and into an offside position.
Gundogan avenged such footballing disrespect on the halfhour. Japanese goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda tripped David Raum from behind and the Manchester City midfielder converted the penalty.
Germany should have sewn up the points early in the second half. Serge Gnabry hit the bar, Jamal Musiala skipped past four defenders only to loft high over the top, Gundogan clipped a post and Jonas Hofmann and Serge Gnabry drew a superb double save from keeper Gonda.
Fortune favours . . .
They had not heeded the lesson from Argentina about the dangers of profligacy.
The longer a schoolyard scrap of a football match ran on so the more courageous the Japanese dared become.
First strike arrived with 15 minutes left as Doan pounced after Neuer had palmed out a cross-shot from fellow substitute Takumi Minamino. Then, even better, Asano wrote a magnificent page in the Blue Samurai’s football history with his dashing right-wing break and rocket up beyond Neuer.
Japan had lift-off, Germany had exploded on the launch pad.