Germany suffered a second consecutive World Cup group-stage exit despite a thrilling 4-2 win over Costa Rica on another night of sensational drama in Qatar.
After collecting just one point from their opening two games in Group E, Germany knew only a victory at Al Bayt Stadium would give them any chance of progressing to the knockout stage.
But despite securing the result they needed, Japan’s somewhat controversial 2-1 win over Spain meant Hansi Flick’s side exited the tournament on goal difference.
Serge Gnabry’s early header (10) appeared to have set Germany on the way to a comfortable three points, but second-half goals from Yeltsin Tejeda (58) and Juan Pablo Vargas (70) sensationally put Costa Rica in pole position to qualify for the last 16 and raised the incredible possibility of both Germany and Spain going out.
Thursday’s thrilling finale as it happened
- 7.10pm UK time – Gnabry gives Germany a fast start but they need Spain to beat Japan.
- 7.11pm – Morata heads in Spain’s opener. Germany move above Japan in the live table into second place.
- 8.04pm – Doan drives in an equaliser for Japan. They move level with Germany on points, goal difference, goals scored – but are ahead on head-to-head record
- 8.06pm – Tanaka bundles in another Japan goal to lead Spain 2-1. Japan move top of group, Spain second and Germany third and going out on goal difference.
- 8.14pm – Tejeda scores an equaliser for Costa Rica, who go up to third in the table, behind Spain on goal difference. Germany sit bottom.
- 8.26pm – Vargas puts Costa Rica ahead vs Germany – and incredibly Germany and Spain are going with Japan top and Costa Rica sitting second.
- 8.29pm – Havertz almost instantly equalises for Germany. They’re still bottom of the group but Spain move back above Costa Rica on goal difference
- 8.41pm – Havertz puts Germany back in front. Germany move up to third in the group. They need Spain to equalise against group leaders Japan and they will go above Japan on goals scored
- 8.46pm – Fullkrug adds another for Germany – but that doesn’t change their situation. They still need a Spain equaliser.
But the drama did not end there. Germany substitute Kai Havertz turned the game on its head again with a well-taken double (73 & 85) before fellow substitute Niclas Fullkrug made it 4-2 in the 89th minute. The victory was not enough for the four-time world champions, though, who finish third in Group E.
Winners Japan will face Group F runners-up Croatia in the last 16, while Group E runners-up Spain will play Group F winners Morocco.
How Germany’s fightback ended in disappointment
Germany’s night started in encouraging fashion when Gnabry made the back of the net ripple after just 10 minutes. David Raum was the creator on Germany’s left-hand side, and his cross was expertly steered into the far corner by the Bayern Munich forward.
Germany were dominant and Leon Goretzka almost scored at the back post only for his header to be turned away by Keylor Navas, before the impressive Jamal Musiala masterfully tip-toed his way into the Costa Rica area but pushed his effort wide.
Despite being in complete control, Germany had Manuel Neuer – making his 19th outing at the World Cup to become the goalkeeper with the most appearances in the history of the competition – to thank for keeping them ahead at the interval.
Raum and Antonio Rudiger failed to deal with a long ball, allowing Keysher Fuller through, but his powerful effort on goal was brilliantly palmed over by the veteran German stopper.
At half-time – and with Spain 1-0 up following Alvaro Morata’s strike – Germany were on course for a last-16 tie against Morocco. But that dramatically changed within minutes of the restart when Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka fired Japan into the lead. And it would get worse for the Germans when Yeltsin Tejeda scored his first international goal after 57 minutes to draw Costa Rica level.
In a frenetic response, Germany hit Navas’ left-hand post on three occasions – twice by Musiala and also by Rudiger – before Costa Rica did the unthinkable and scored a second. Juan Pablo Vargas bundled the ball home from a free-kick to send Costa Rica wild and on the verge of following Japan into the knockout stages, with Spain joining Germany in departing the competition.
But a topsy-turvy night took another twist when substitute Havertz hauled Germany level after he converted Niclas Fullkrug’s cross three minutes later. And then, with five minutes remaining, Havertz had his second, turning home Gnabry’s pass to restore Germany’s lead.
Fullkrug then survived a VAR check to net his side’s fourth before 10 minutes of stoppage time ensued, with Germany hoping Spain could rescue a late equaliser against Japan – a result that would see them progress.
But Japan held on to seal a famous win against Spain and send Germany out of the World Cup – four years after they fell at the first hurdle as defending champions in Russia – on a dark night for one of the world’s great football superpowers.
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