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FOOTBALL

Japan stun Spain but both reach World Cup last 16

Spain staggered through to the World Cup last 16 on Thursday despite a 2-1 defeat by Japan, who remarkably won Group E on a rollercoaster night which saw four-time champions Germany eliminated.

Japan stun Spain but both reach World Cup last 16
Japan's players react after the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group E football match between Japan and Spain at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on December 1, 2022. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP)

Japan secured another incredible triumph after beating Germany in their opening game, with their progression from the “group of death” one of the greatest achievements in the country’s footballing history.

For a few heart-stopping minutes Spain were poised to head out when Costa Rica were leading in the other game, but the 2010 champions squeezed through after Germany did them a favour by coming back to beat Los Ticos.

Spain and Germany ended on four points each, but La Roja progressed on goal difference.

Alvaro Morata sent Spain ahead early on with a towering header, but Japan dramatically struck back at the start of the second half.

Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka’s goals saw them mount a sensational comeback, just as they did against Germany.

Tanaka’s goal was highly controversial after the officials relied on VAR to decide Kaoru Mitoma had kept the ball in play by a hair’s breadth to set him up.

Spain struggled to create chances against a staunch Japanese defence in the final stages, with the Asian side aware that conceding another goal would see them eliminated.

Japanese players collapsed at full-time in celebration, exhausted and elated, while the substitutes raced on to celebrate.

Spain face Morocco in the last 16, while Japan play Croatia.

Despite beating Costa Rica 4-2, Germany went out on goal difference to Spain. (Photo by Ina Fassbender / AFP)

Rollercoaster night

Both sides made five changes, with Luis Enrique bringing in Morata to lead the line, and handing Alejandro Balde and Nico Williams their full debuts.

Japan started with five at the back, hoping to keep Spain at bay, but pressed high in attack to try and capitalise on any mistakes.

Spain are sometimes guilty of glaring defensive errors and Pau Torres exemplified that with a sloppy touch which led to Japan’s first chance, fired into the side-netting by Junya Ito.

Morata sent La Roja ahead in the 12th minute with a towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross, rekindling the connection which occasionally worked at Chelsea after the striker’s arrival in 2017.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu replaced the ineffective Takefuso Kubo and Yuto Nagatomo at the break with Mitoma and Doan, and it paid instant dividends.

Balde lost the ball under pressure and from the edge of the box winger Doan hammered past Unai Simon, who might have done more to keep it out.

Three minutes later and Japan had turned the game on its head, Tanaka bundling home from on the goalline after Mitoma had miraculously kept the ball in play as he crossed it — according to VAR.

Spain were shellshocked and struggled to react, with Luis Enrique making a raft of substitutions to try and regain control.

The coach, alone and perched on the edge of his technical area, was unaware that for a few moments his team faced elimination, when Costa Rica took the lead against Germany in the other game to go 2-1 ahead.

Spain survived, progressing thanks to their superior goal difference, on a night that was far more terrifying than they had anticipated — and Japan secured a hugely unlikely achievement.

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FOOTBALL

IN IMAGES: Argentina fans take over Spain’s cities after World Cup win

Thousands of Argentinians took to the streets of Madrid, Barcelona and other city centres across Spain to celebrate their national side’s victory against France in the World Cup final on Sunday.  

IN IMAGES: Argentina fans take over Spain's cities after World Cup win

Many of the roughly 100,000 Argentinians who have made Spain their home celebrated en masse the victory of la albiceleste until the early hours of Sunday night, packing squares, honking horns, chanting football songs and adorning everything in white and light blue. 

Argentina’s World Cup victory against France on penalties after an exhilarating 3-3 draw saw an explosion of joy among Argentinians the world around, and Spain was no exception. 

By midday in Madrid, there was a 50-metre queue outside nightclub Shoko, where Argentina fans gathered to watch their team on a big screen. 

When the winning penalty was scored, they exploded onto the streets, filling the Spanish capital’s Puerta del Sol square to the brim. 

Celebrations at times got out of hand, with some fans trying to climb the giant Christmas tree in Madrid’s iconic square.

Riot police had to be called in to assist and two people were arrested. 

In Barcelona, 10,000 people gathered at the city’s Arc de Triomf, lighting the sky red with flares and letting off fireworks, but fortunately there were no arrests or accidents reported.

Barcelona and Argentina share a common idol in Lionel Messi, who scored two goals in the final and was chosen player of the tournament. 

In Valencia, Argentina fans gathered in front of the town hall to celebrate. In Málaga, they gathered at River Plate’s youth academy branch. Similar scenes were witnessed in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Seville, Bilbao and other cities across the territory.  

Spain’s cultural and linguistic links with Argentina run deep, as together with Italians, Spaniards made up the majority of the migrants that turned modern Argentina into a European melting pot in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

In more recent years, the trend has been reversed, with large migration flows every time an economic crisis hits the Argentine peso.

So far in 2022, more than 33,000 Argentine nationals have moved to Spain, the highest number in 14 years. 

Many of them have Italian passports, which partly explains why the biggest foreign population group in Barcelona are Italians. 

But under Spain’s new Grandchildren Law, many thousands of Argentine nationals will be able to claim Spanish citizenship, in plenty of cases without having ever lived in Spain.

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