The Group of Death ended almost as a heart attack. All teams had a chance to go through and all teams were through and out at different times during the matches Costa Rica-Germany and Japan-Spain.
Costa Rica were not given many chances after their opening match 0-7 humiliation to Spain. But after a surprising win over Japan, they had every chance of going through if they defeated Germany. Germany in the meantime were forced to win, having only lost and tied to Japan and Spain respectively. Things were going according to plan when Serge Gnabry scored after 10 minutes, but despite dominating, Germany were simply unable to get another goal, and halfway into second half the Costa Ricans looked at a possible sensation when Yeltsin Tejeda equalized and then went ahead when Manuel Neuer scored one of the strangest own-goals of the tournament. Germany pressed on and in the end managed to win 4-2 with two Kai Havertz goals and one by Niclas Fullkrug.
But in the end Germany, the former footballing giants, were out in the first round nevertheless, for the second time in a row, and only the third time since 1938....
Germany only had themselves to blame, but at the same time they were not fortunate with the result of the other match where Japan defeated Spain against all odds.
It was a boring match in the first half. Spain went ahead on a goal by Alvaro Morata, and were passing the ball around comfortably against a Japanese side that appeared to have nothing to offer. Luis Enrique apparently saw no reason to change anything, but Japan certainly did and the manager put in Kaoru Mitoma to put more pressure in midfield and Ritso Doan, who had scored the equalizer against Germany when coming on. And it took only three minutes before the Freiburg striker capitalized on a high pressure on the Spanish defense and equalized for Japan.
The Spaniards appeared a bit shocked about the equalizer (which shows most of all a degree of arrogant conformity) and as Japan continued pressing they got the lead through Ao Tanaka.
Now, this was a controversial goal that no VAR technology can take away: the ball appears to have crossed the touchline as Kaoru Mitoma made the pass to Tanaka. I think it crossed, but lengthy VAR check found that it had not crossed the line. Although I still think it crossed the line, I must admit that different pictures from different angles may show different things...
I don't think technology is always right, and this is certainly one of those calls which are hard to decide.
But the goal stood, and Japan was ahead.
It was here that Luis Enrique's reply appeared weak. Japan, as was to be expected, stood back and fought hard. But Spain continued passing the ball, relatively slow and without the quick explosions that are often necessary to open a defense. This was surely disappointing because Spain have some fantastic players, but appears to lack explosion and creativity when it comes to come back against a team they should defeat.
Japan will face Croatia in a match that could go to both sides, while Spain will face Morocco in a match where Spain has to be much better than they were today.