27.11.2022 18:37 h

Japan stumble gives Germany fresh World Cup hope

Costa Ricas Spieler rechnen sich auch Chancen gegen Deutschland aus.
Costa Ricas Spieler rechnen sich auch Chancen gegen Deutschland aus.

Costa Rica snatched a dramatic late winner against Japan on Sunday to blow their World Cup group wide open and ease the intense pressure on embattled Germany.

Japan, who shocked four-time champions Germany 2-1 in their opener in Qatar, could have taken a giant stride towards the last 16 with a win.

But they laboured for large parts of their game against a Costa Rica side who were hammered 7-0 by Spain, and were made to pay when defender Keysher Fuller scored in the 81st minute with a deflected strike.

The result left Spain, Japan and Costa Rica all level on three points in Group E, with Spain facing Germany in the late kick-off on Sunday.

"We weren't dead yesterday and now we are still very much alive," said Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez, whose team will play Germany on Thursday.

"Nobody can forget about us yet so we can still dream."

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu, whose side face Spain in a daunting final group game, still fancies their chances of reaching the knockout rounds.

"Of course Spain will be tough but there is a good chance for us to win," he said. "We will be well prepared and will go into the match with confidence."

Japan's defeat means Germany can breathe a huge sigh of relief, knowing they can now lose to Spain and still qualify for the knockout stage if results go their way in the final round of matches.

The prospect of an early German exit -- four years after bowing out at the same stage at the 2018 finals in Russia -- was practically unthinkable before the tournament.

Germany coach Hansi Flick said on Saturday his team had the quality to bounce back against a Spain team who obliterated Costa Rica.

"We have a team that has quality, that can implement the things (we are working on), and we are very positive about it," Flick said.

"We need to arrive with courage and with faith in our quality for this game against Spain."

Spain coach Luis Enrique said his team faced a "beautiful challenge" as they chase a win that will put them on the brink of the last 16.

Luis Enrique cautioned, however, that Germany's World Cup pedigree -- they won their fourth title in 2014 -- meant nothing could be taken for granted.

"I have a lot of respect for their players, they are world class, and their history is there to see," he said.

Belgium's hopes of qualifying from Group F took a severe blow as they suffered a surprise 2-0 loss to Morocco.

A victory for Belgium would have sent them through but Romain Saiss and Zakaria Aboukhlal's late goals instead secured Morocco a first World Cup win in 24 years.

Belgium, who finished third in 2018, lacked spark and were made to pay by inspired opposition.

"We're not playing with joy. It's maybe the weight on our shoulders," said coach Roberto Martinez.

"In the last game we have to play to win it and as if we have nothing to lose."

In Sunday's other Group F game, Croatia went behind to Canada when Alphonso Davies scored after just two minutes before the 2018 runners-up exploited the gaps in the Canadian defence and romped to a 4-1 win.

Andrej Kramaric scored twice either side of a fine goal from Marko Livaja before Lovro Majer completed the job in second-half injury time.

Croatia now need just a draw to reach the last 16 when they meet Belgium in their final group game on Thursday, but the Belgians must win to be sure of going through.

The Moroccans will be confident of taking a point from Canada which would send them through.

On Saturday, France became the first team into the second round after two goals from Kylian Mbappe inspired a 2-1 win over Denmark in Group D.

Argentina also resurrected their campaign following a shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia after goals from Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez secured a 2-0 win over Mexico in Group C.