The group stage game between Japan and Germany is the kind of World Cup matchup that just begs to be lapped on the schedule. Who wouldn’t be excited to see one of the best teams in the world go up against a young, scrappy underdog who can make things interesting? However, the problem with excitement in these types of games is that they rarely match the score, as either the underdog chokes and loses 4-0, or the favorite never gets up to speed and bounces back. 0-0 draw or 1-0 loss. Lucky for us, Japan and Germany played their roles perfectly on Wednesday and produced the best game of the tournament so far.
We’ll start with Germany, who start the game looking determined to silence any lingering doubts about their place in the world football hierarchy. Japan sat deep, hoping to spread random counters to absorb German attacks and try to steal goals. This is the right strategy against a superior opponent, as even the most individually gifted squads can struggle to unlock a deep defense. The problem for Japan was that Germany started the game at full speed, connecting passes with ease and creating attacking patterns that led to a steady stream of scoring chances. Midfielder Joshua Kimmich’s fine pass found left-back David Raum alone in the Japan box in the 32nd minute to give Germany a penalty and a 1-0 lead.
At this point, it felt like a huge victory for Germany. Not only did they have all the possession, but they were cutting Japan’s lines and creating quick shots (Germany had 29 shots in that game!) which guaranteed two or three more goals on the way.
Here, Japan stepped in and did its part. In such a matchup, the smaller team’s chances usually depend on how well they can frustrate their bigger and badder opponents. You sit behind the ball and give up all the possession in the hope that the other guys can’t figure out how to create chances, get more frustrated with not being able to create those chances as the game goes on, and eventually discover the flaws. usable solution. None of this happened to Germany, and so Japan’s collapse would have been entirely understandable. Good. The plan didn’t work out. These guys are better.
As the game went on, a funny thing happened: Japan’s confidence and courage continued to grow. Managers love to talk about how important mentality is to success in football, and you’ll find no better evidence to back that up than Japan’s performance in the final 30 minutes of this game. Germany never slowed down or regressed, but Japan didn’t need to. They just kept fighting, pushing and creating their own chances, eventually getting the equalizer in the 75th minute:
And they didn’t stop there. A dodgy playbook would have called for Japan to get back into defensive shape and focus all their efforts on preserving the draw, but Samurai Blue had more fight left:
That’s what the World Cup is all about: two teams push themselves to the top of the standings to meet the demands placed on each other. While Japan sat back and tried to absorb all of Germany’s pressure, Germany wanted to prove it could live up to its talent. When Germany presented an authoritative answer, she in turn asked Japan if she had the horses to make her real game. The result was a joy for Japan and a bitter disappointment for Germany, but it was the effort and determination from both sides that made this game more than just an upset. A well-played game can sometimes trump the bottom line.