THE GROUP E of the FIFA World Cup concluded with two simultaneous matches that unfolded like an out of control roller coaster.
The live points table was twisting itself into knots every other minute, with literally all four teams in the group occupying the top two spots at various points during the concluding fixtures.
For Germany and Costa Rica, the bottom two who were playing each other, the requirement was a win plus a favourable result in the other match; i.e. a draw or a win for Spain. Given Spain were seen as favourites going into the match with Japan, it was not a far-fetched scenario and early on, as Serge Gnabry scored for Germany and Alvaro Morata put Spain ahead, it seemed like the upstarts were falling back in the race and the old guards were reclaiming their place in the World Cup.
Both matches remained 1-0 till half-time.
But Japan, who had started their campaign with a shock win over Germany, had other ideas about how the night would play out. Shortly after the match resumed, Risu Doan found the net. And minutes later, Ao Tanaka scored. All of a sudden, Japan were leading 2-1 and were set to go into the second round along with Spain.
In the other match, a similar resurgence was being pulled off by Costa Rica. Just before the hour mark, they equalized against Germany through Yeltsin Tejeda. And 70 minutes in, Manuel Neuer ended up scoring an own goal that put Costa Rica 2-1 ahead.
Suddenly, with just 20 minutes of regulation time left, both Germany and Spain, the two European stalwarts in the group, looked set to exit from the World Cup. Japan and Costa Rica were now the two top teams.
It came down to Germany to fight back and change that scenario. But not for themselves, but for Spain.
Over the next 15 minutes, Kai Havertz, who had come on as a substitute, found the net twice. Then Niclas Fulkrug sealed the deal with another one around the 90th minute. Germany had saved their own pride and got Spain back into a position where they were in the top two, but now they needed Spain to score just one more goal to return the favour to Germany.
But Japan held on strong and made sure they won the match 2-1. The Asian elites achieved two giant kills in the group stage, beating Germany and Spain; the two favourite nations.
Germany, despite their late resurgence, lost out on a place in the second round. This is their back to back second World Cup exit from the group stage.
And Spain barely managed to get through to the knockout stage.
On 5th December, Japan will face Croatia in their Round of 16 match. On 6th December Spain will take on Morocco in their next fixture.
God only knows what fresh madness they will produce going forward in the tournament.
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