DOHA, Qatar – These are the days when the mighty fall. On Day 3 of the World Cup, Argentina reeled after suffering a grueling defeat by Saudi Arabia. On day 4 it was Germany’s turn. Another of the pre-tournament favorites was shocked and embarrassed by a supposed makeweight.
This time Japan was the focus. Like Saudi Arabia, they had struggled for air in the first half, falling behind to take Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty and then fighting with grim determination to limit the damage until half-time. And just like Saudi Arabia, they used their luck, equalizing through Ritsu Doan and then securing a win with a goal from Takuma Asano.
In truth, Japan’s victory is not quite as shocking as Saudi Arabia’s victory over Argentina a day earlier: after all, Japan are a regular presence at the World Cup, a feature of each of the last seven editions and such an opportunity to see a team that survives long enough to make it past the group stage. However, his most famous victories came against Denmark and Colombia; it has or at least had no seismic impact on the tournament.
The win against Germany changed that in one fell swoop. Not only because of the caliber of the opponent – coach Hansi Flick’s Germany has a base of players from FC Bayern Munich as well as stars from Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund – but because of the likely consequences.
In the same group as another favorite, Spain, Germany, who started the game with a silent protest at the FIFA bracelet ban, had little room for error. While that’s not a knockout, if Germany fail to beat Spain on Sunday, one of Europe’s traditional powerhouses could face the shame of being eliminated from the group stage for the second straight season.
It’s also tempting to wonder if something of a pattern is beginning to emerge. The opening days of World Cups are usually just a little chaotic, as even the most talented teams are still finding form and rhythm, and the teams marked as underdogs are yet to face the cold, harsh reality.
Given the circumstances, this was arguably ever more pronounced in Qatar: instead of the traditional three-week break in which players from different clubs were molded into a cohesive unit, coaches had just a few days. The Favorites squads are packed with players who have spent the last three months playing a game almost every three days.
That’s not true of all – France and England both got through their opening games – but Germany and Argentina aren’t the only powerhouses to falter, either. Earlier on Wednesday, Croatia, a 2018 finalist, struggled through a goalless draw against Morocco. A day earlier, after qualifying comfortably, Denmark were held to a goalless draw by Tunisia. Shouts seem to count for very little in these days of shock and awe.