Germany shocked by Japan after World Cup armband protest
By John Weaver
DOHA – Japan produced a stunning late comeback to shock Germany in their World Cup opener on Wednesday (23) after the four-time champions staged a powerful protest against FIFA’s refusal to allow rainbow-themed armbands.
Elsewhere on the fourth day of action in Qatar, 2018 finalists Croatia played out a goalless draw against Morocco, with Spain and fancied Belgium in action in evening games.
The build-up to the Germany-Japan match was dominated by intense speculation over whether captain Manuel Neuer would wear the ‘OneLove’ armband, viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in the Gulf state, where homosexuality is illegal.
Seven nations, including England and Germany, had abandoned plans to wear the armbands because of the threat of disciplinary action from world governing body FIFA, including bookings.
Bayern Munich goalkeeper Neuer, who had come under political pressure to change his mind, did not wear the armband at the Khalifa International Stadium. Instead, the entire team instead covered their mouths before kick-off.
“It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable,” Germany’s football federation tweeted minutes later.
Germany came to the World Cup desperate to avoid the humiliation of 2018, when as defending champions they suffered their earliest exit since 1938.
Hansi Flick’s men were on course for an opening win when Ilkay Gundogan put them ahead from the penalty spot in the 33rd minute, but they failed to capitalize on their dominance.
They paid the price for their missed chances when the Blue Samurai equalized through substitute Ritsu Doan in the 75th minute.
Fellow sub Takuma Asano – who, like Doan, plays in the Bundesliga – completed a remarkable turnaround eight minutes later, smashing the ball home to send the Japanese bench and their boisterous fans wild.
“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.”
Germany are once again facing the prospect of another World Cup humiliation, with games to come in Group E against Spain and Costa Rica, who met later on Wednesday.
Bayern Munich forward Thomas Mueller told Germany’s Magenta TV it was “ludicrous that we are now standing here with a defeat”.
Spain hope to make a far smoother entrance than they did in Russia, with coach Julen Lopetegui sacked on the eve of the tournament for accepting the Real Madrid job.
Belgium was set to meet Canada – returning to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years – in the late match in Group F.
Time is running out for Belgium’s so-called ‘Golden Generation’, who finished third at the last World Cup.
With Romelu Lukaku to miss the first two group games and captain Eden Hazard reduced to a bit-part role at Real Madrid, Belgium will rely heavily on Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne.
South Korea coach Paulo Bento confirmed that Tottenham forward Son Heung-min was fit enough to play on Thursday against Uruguay even though he has been training in a face mask.
But he cautioned that they “cannot take any risks” with the player, who suffered a fracture around his left eye earlier this month.
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford said Harry Kane was “fine”, easing fears the captain could miss Friday’s (25) clash against the United States.
Kane went for a scan on Wednesday after he hurt his right ankle in England’s 6-2 win over Iran earlier in the week.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal face Ghana on Thursday (24), two days after he left Manchester United by “mutual agreement” after a bombshell interview last week in which he lashed out at the club.
Bruno Fernandes, who was Ronaldo’s teammate at Old Trafford, said Portugal were entirely focused on the World Cup despite the distraction of the United divorce.
“It was a dream come true to play with Cristiano at United but nothing lasts forever,” he said.
“In his career, and we have to respect such decisions, every decision has to be respected regardless of agreeing or not.”
– Agence France-Presse