DOHA – An eruption of emotion, then a high-speed collision between the players out on the pitch decked in blue and the dozen or so from the bench donning orange bibs. Photographers stumbling over each other to get a snap of the euphoria.
At the Khalifa International Stadium on Wednesday evening, the mood felt rebellious and even chaotic at times. It was also utterly brilliant.
Takuma Asano was the man responsible for all this.
The Japanese striker, seven minutes before the end of the game, latched onto a long punt with a brilliant touch, held off Nico Schlotterbeck, and rifled a shot inside Manuel Neuer’s near post to send many inside the stadium into delirium.
With more than half the 42,608 in attendance decked out in blue, the celebratory songs and cheers reverberated around the venue as they counted down to the final whistle.
With the goal giving Japan a 2-1 lead, four-time champions Germany were forced to pour their players forward in the desperate search for a leveller – even Neuer went upfield into the opposite box in a last-ditch attempt – but it ultimately sealed the Samurai Blue’s most famous win.
Eight minutes earlier, Ritsu Doan had beaten Neuer to level the score after Ilkay Gundogan had put the Germans ahead from the penalty spot in the first half.
“The players came together as one team. We prepared well and we stuck in there, and that’s what led to the win,” said Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu.
“Lots of our fans have come to Doha and they were behind us, pushing us on.
“I want us to keep a level head after this and look at what we could have done better and look to win the next match.”
Japan’s historic triumph was also another one for Asia as it came a day after Saudi Arabia trumped tournament favourites Argentina 2-1 to pull off one of the greatest upsets in the 92-year history of the World Cup.
But while the Saudis played a high-intensity game against the South Americans from the start, Japan struggled initially in their encounter with the second-most successful team in the tournament, who started the match with a peaceful protest.
Their players had covered their mouths during the team photo in a rebuke of Fifa’s clampdown on plans to wear the “One Love” armbands to protest discrimination in Qatar.
Daizen Maeda thought he had given the Asian side a dream start in the eighth minute when he slotted the ball home off a counter attack, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside.
From then on, Germany controlled possession and played most of the game in the Japanese half, although they only scored through Gundogan’s spot kick after David Raum was clumsily bundled over inside the penalty area by Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda in the 31st minute.
Gonda made amends in the second half, pulling off four big saves inside a minute in the 71st minute, and this appeared to give his team the boost they needed.
Two minutes later, Neuer was forced into a good save to deny Junya Ito from close range, but the German skipper would soon be beaten after three of Japan’s substitutes combined to deadly effect.
Kaoru Mitoma played Takumi Minamino behind the German backline with a deft pass, and the former Liverpool man’s centre was parried by Neuer into the path of Doan, who blasted in the equaliser.
It would get even better when Asano – also a substitute – fired home the winning goal.
The 28-year-old, who plies his trade for German club Bochum, was later seen gesturing to supporters to not let up in their chants, throwing his arms up in the air, in the hope they would lift the team until the end. And they certainly did.
“We made it too easy for Japan. I don’t know if an easier goal has ever been scored at a World Cup,” Gundogan told Germany’s ARD TV network.
“This must not happen to us.”
Thomas Muller told Germany’s Magenta TV it was “ludicrous that we are now standing here with a defeat”.