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Japan stuns Spain to top Group E, Germany eliminated from World Cup

Japan scored twice in two minutes and 22 seconds Thursday at Khalifa International Stadium to snatch a 2-1 comeback victory over Spain that knocked its heavily favored opponent out of first place in Group E and eliminated Germany from the World Cup entirely.

Japan topped the group with six points after opening the tournament with an upset win over Germany. Surprisingly, its only loss of the group stage came against Costa Rica.

Spain finished second on four points, only ahead of Germany on goal difference.

# Team W-D-L GF GA GD Pts
1 Japan 2-0-1 4 3 1 6
2 Spain 1-1-1 9 3 6 4
3 Germany 1-1-1 6 5 1 4
4 Costa Rica 1-0-2 3 11 -8 3

Germany fought back to beat Costa Rica 4-2 in Thursday’s other match, but the result ultimately made no difference. The four-time world champion needed Spain to either draw or beat Japan to advance to the knockout round.

Instead, Die Mannschaft suffered elimination in the group stage for a second straight tournament.

Japan will next face Croatia in the round of 16 on Monday. Spain will take on surprise package Morocco on Tuesday.

The most chaotic day of the World Cup began with Spain sitting pretty in first place. Alvaro Morata had given La Roja a 1-0 halftime lead, and Germany, racing to a 1-0 lead of its own, had also put itself in a position to advance.

But everything changed in the second half.

Japan flew out of the gates, forcing Spain into a critical turnover that presented substitute Ritsu Doan a chance to equalize. Doan came off the bench to score in his country’s 2-1 win over Germany at the same stadium, and he played the hero again Thursday, flashing a shot that Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon couldn’t palm to safety.

Minutes later, teammate Kaoru Mitoma scrambled to keep the ball in play, and Ao Tanaka outmuscled Spanish midfielder Rodri to bundle home Japan’s second goal. Replays showed Mitoma retrieved Doan’s pass before it crossed the goal line.

(Courtesy: TSN)

Germany, suddenly in need of a goal from Spain to extend its stay in Qatar, watched as its own advantage evaporated. Despite being outshot and outplayed at Al Bayt Stadium, Costa Rica scored twice in 12 minutes to go up 2-1, a score line that threatened to knock Germany and Spain out of the World Cup.

Kai Havertz responded with two goals, and substitute Niclas Fullkrug added another in the 89th minute to restore Germany’s lead and keep Spain on course for the knockout stage.

Luis Enrique’s side, however, couldn’t do the Germans a similar favor.

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How has Ronaldo fared in his first 5 matches in Saudi Arabia?

Cristiano Ronaldo said the project at Al Nassr was more enticing than multiple offers from European clubs. The Saudi Pro League was “very competitive” and thus enticing as the next step in his storied career.

The Portuguese superstar signed for Al Nassr on Dec. 30, 2022. Ronaldo stressed – publicly and repeatedly – that his main motivation during the autumn of his career was to play at the highest level. But then, as potential suitors dwindled after his tumultuous and disappointing World Cup showing, he opted to join a club that had an average attendance of just over 8,000 for the 2021-22 campaign. Money talks – and its voice is particularly loud when the contract is reportedly worth €200 million per year. Suddenly, Ronaldo adding to his Champions League scoring record and challenging for other top European honors wasn’t as important.

Strange as it may be to get used to, Ronaldo, 38, is now fully ensconced with Al Nassr, bringing his signature goal celebration and legions of fans along with him to Saudi Arabia. But how has he fared so far?

Here’s a game-by-game analysis and overall conclusion of Ronaldo’s opening five league matches for Al Nassr, starting with his debut against Al Ettifaq.

Jan. 22: Al Nassr 1, Al Ettifaq 0

  • Venue: Mrsool Park
  • Attendance: 22,862
Sam Bagnall – AMA / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Al Nassr supporters, who turned out in droves for Ronaldo’s official unveiling at the club, had to be patient. His debut in the league was delayed by a suspension stemming from his spell at Manchester United. When it finally arrived in the 1-0 home win over Al Ettifaq, it was a mixed bag. Immediately installed as captain by manager Rudi Garcia, Ronaldo led the line, playing alone up front in a 4-2-3-1 formation. He sometimes looked isolated and unable to link up with Brazilian attacking midfielder Talisca, the team’s incumbent talisman and leading scorer in the Saudi Pro League this season. Ronaldo had just three touches inside the opposition penalty area.

But there were encouraging flashes, including literal ones when he stood over a first-half free-kick and seemingly every fan in the stadium quickly whipped out their phones to try and catch a potentially memorable moment. His effort, however, missed the target. Ronaldo had a couple of looks at goal – an early shot from just outside the area was deflected away for a corner – and he nearly notched an assist for Pity Martinez early in the second half but was ultimately unable to mark his debut with a goal contribution.

Goals 0
Assists 0
Shot attempts 3
Shots on target 0
Chances created 1
Duels won 1
Passes attempted 27
Passing accuracy 85.2%

Rating: 6/10

Feb. 3: Al Fateh 2, Al Nassr 2

  • Venue: Prince Abdullah bin Jalawi Sports City Stadium
  • Attendance: 17,631

Sandwiched between his debut against Al Ettifaq and his second league match versus Al Fateh, Ronaldo featured in a Saudi Super Cup loss to Al Ittihad. Following that contest, Garcia could sense that his players were trying a little too hard to find their illustrious new teammate on the pitch. “It’s very important that the players play normally and don’t always try to give the ball to Cristiano,” he explained, imploring them to make the “right decisions” in the final third of the field. The message seemed to get through. Al Nassr looked more at ease with Ronaldo headlining the team, and the veteran forward himself seemed more comfortable in his new surroundings.

There were the first real glimpses of a blossoming partnership with Talisca when, in the 24th minute, Ronaldo latched on to a deft flick from the Brazilian before unleashing a left-footed strike that careened off the post and into the net. But, despite his protestations and insistence that he was onside, the flag was up, and the goal was chalked off. Then, prior to the halftime interval, he smashed a close-range effort against the crossbar when it appeared easier to score. It looked like the wait for his first Al Nassr goal would go on, but in typical dramatic fashion, Ronaldo dispatched a penalty in the 93rd minute to salvage a point for his side. He was up and running.

Goals 1
Assists 0
Shot attempts 4
Shots on target 1
Chances created 2
Duels won 7
Passes attempted 25
Passing accuracy 72%

Rating: 6.5/10

Feb. 9: Al Wehda 0, Al Nassr 4

  • Venue: King Abdulaziz Sports City Stadium
  • Attendance: 27,102