Japan stumble gives Germany fresh World Cup hope

Doha (AFP) – Costa Rica snatched a dramatic late winner against Japan on Sunday to blow their World Cup group wide open and ease the intense pressure on embattled Germany.

Japan, who shocked four-time champions Germany 2-1 in their opener in Qatar, could have taken a giant stride towards the last 16 with a win.

But they laboured for large parts of their game against a Costa Rica side who were hammered 7-0 by Spain, and were made to pay when defender Keysher Fuller scored in the 81st minute with a deflected strike.

The result left Spain, Japan and Costa Rica all level on three points in Group E, with Spain facing Germany in the late kick-off on Sunday.

“We weren’t dead yesterday and now we are still very much alive,” said Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez, whose team will play Germany on Thursday.

“Nobody can forget about us yet so we can still dream.”

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu, whose side face Spain in a daunting final group game, still fancies their chances of reaching the knockout round.

“Of course Spain will be tough but there is a good chance for us to win,” he said. “We will be well prepared and will go into the match with confidence.”

Japan’s defeat means Germany can breathe a huge sigh of relief, knowing they can now lose to Spain and still qualify for the knockouts if results go their way.

The prospect of an early German exit — four years after bowing out at the same stage at the 2018 finals in Russia — was practically unthinkable before the tournament.

Germany coach Hansi Flick said on Saturday his team had the quality to bounce back against a rampant Spain team, who obliterated Costa Rica.

“We have a team that has quality, that can implement the things (we are working on), and we are very positive about it,” Flick said.

“We need to arrive with courage and with faith in our quality for this game against Spain.”

Spain coach Luis Enrique said his team faced a “beautiful challenge” as they chase a win that will put them on the brink of the last 16.

Germany’s players in training for Sunday’s World Cup Group E match with Spain Ina Fassbender AFP

Luis Enrique cautioned, however, that Germany’s World Cup pedigree — they won their fourth title in 2014 — meant nothing could be taken for granted.

“They are world champions, when you look there are four stars on their shirt,” he said.

“I have a lot of respect for their players, they are world class, and their history is there to see.”

Past their peak

Elsewhere on Sunday, 2018 third-place finishers Belgium will qualify if they beat Morocco in Group F.

Belgium captain Eden Hazard admitted on Saturday that the Red Devils’ vaunted “Golden Generation” is past its peak — but insisted they remain World Cup contenders.

“To be fair I think we had a better chance to win four years ago,” the 31-year-old said.

“The team was better four years ago but still we have the quality to win games and to win the competition. We have a few guys, they are a bit older now but we have experience and the best goalkeeper in the world (Thibaut Courtois).”

In Sunday’s other Group F game, 2018 runners-up Croatia take on Canada, playing in their first World Cup since 1986.

The Croatians drew their opening match 0-0 against Morocco while Canada lost 1-0 to the Belgians.

On Saturday, France became the first team into the second round after two goals from Kylian Mbappe inspired a 2-1 win over Denmark in Group D.

Argentina also resurrected their campaign following a shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia after goals from Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez secured a 2-0 win over Mexico in Group C.

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