– Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Stunned? Dumbfounded? Crestfallen? Lost money if you placed a bet? Or uncomfortably numb? All at the same time in space of two days? You better be if you are watching the World Cup.
Very difficult to explain how this happened, but it did. Japan outsmarting Germany in a game the European powerhouse has dominated for so long! It was a bizarre outcome, considering how the first half played out. It was all Germany and Japan nowhere close to it. On paper, both teams started out on a 4-2-3-1 note. Effectively, Japan were playing 8-2-0 for the first 45 minutes. They had nothing. No possession of the ball, defending with their backs to the wall all the time. Ball possession was 76% in favour Germany even at the end of the game!
Then, how often has one seen things change so dramatically in the next 45 minutes? A team with many players plying their trade in the German league, Japan came out guns blazing in the second half. Not that they were entirely out of the woods in spite of doing that. Germany were pushing too, looking for that insurance goal after Ilkay Gundogan’s first-half penalty conversion. What kept Japan in the game was four saves in the space of about six seconds by goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda. Had one of those balls gone in, it would have end of the day, end of the story. Game, set and match.
But, the ball did not go in. Due to some inaccurate shooting by Germany from the threatening zone, desperate defending by Japan with numbers in the box and those decisive saves by Kawashima, it remained 1-0. And, as we have seen so often, most notably in yesterday’s Argentina-Saudi Arabia game, it changed. Two substitutions by Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu worked wonders. They kept going at Germany, forced a fantastic save from Manuel Neuer before drilling in those decisive blows. The second goal by Takuma Asano was a work of wonder. To be able to receive that overhead pass with that kind of perfection and crashing it into the net from that narrow an angle took some doing. No doubt, it was one of the most precious strikes in the history of World Cup football.
Where did Germany lose it? Well, they were unable to score after dominating for such a long time. They were at it for most of the match, reaching the penalty box at an alarming rate for Japan. Yet, the final pass or the final hit never came. They took numerous shots on goal. Most of those were not on target. Sure, the goalkeeper made important saves, defenders intercepted balls and effected blocks. The finishing, on part of Germany was well below par. Really unbecoming of a team that has been the most consistent in the history of the competition.
And how did Japan turn it around? Simple. They came out with a totally different outlook after being outplayed in the first half. Instead of having eight in their own penalty box and keeping most of their players in their own half, they went at the opponents. They had far more in the German part of the field in the second half. Kept going at high speed and took advantage of the gaps Hansi Flick’s boys kept open in their pursuit of that second goal.
Favourites and leading by a goal scored from the penalty spot at the end of the second half? Obviously it cannot be a bad omen but it has happened for two days on the trot. Argentina a day ago and Germany now. Both losing to Asian sides who were very much the underdogs. This has been some start to a World Cup. Don’t bet on these games? Or will you!