The concession of two late goals that condemned them to a 2-1 defeat – the 83rd minute winner rifled in with aplomb following a ball launched from deep by Takuma Asano, who had replaced Celtic’s Daizen Maeda as one of a raft of transformative substitutes – could be cataclysmic for Germany’s tournament hopes.
However, this is not a normal World Cup. And that fact means what might reverberate from their actions in a fashion equally as enduring is the refusal to be cowed over FIFA’s ban on them wearing the OneLove armband. A multi-coloured symbol of respect for diversity and human rights, it was conceived as a riposte to the hosting of the finals in a Qatar where the rights of women, the LGBTQi community and migrant workers are trampled upon.
Germany, in common with England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland, agreed to have their captains adorned in this cloth as the most muted form of protest ahead of the finals. Yet when FIFA threatened players who did so with yellow cards, or removal from the pitch – thus far – England, Wales, Denmark and the Netherlands have chosen to capitulate meekly.
Not so Germany’s players, and their football federation. Lining-up for a team photograph before kicking off their 2022 campaign, in placing hands over mouths, the German starting line-up demonstrated their silencing would not bring quiet acquiescence. An image that will gain worldwide attention, on the morning of the match it emerged DfB had contacted the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the legality of FIFA’s threats concering the OneLove armband. They then backed up their visual protest by statements on their Twitter feed posted early into an encounter wherein they stated that “denying us the armband is denying us our voice”; a voice they said wasn’t about “making a political statement - human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted by still isn’t the case”.
By then they were enveloped in a contest from which it seemed they could take full points for granted. Thanks to Ilkay Gundogan’s 38th minute penalty conversion that followed keeper Shuichi Gonda needlessly throwing himself on top of David Raum in the box, after a coming together of the pair.
Gonda then produced a couple of smart stops as Germany proved increasingly frustrated by their finishing. In delivering Japan their greatest moment in the international arena across a scarcely believable closing stages, head coach Hajime Moriyasu made his opponents’ pay by boldly reshaping his side. Maeda hadn’t played badly – he had the ball in the net in the opening minutes only to have strayed offside, and was mighty close with a flashing header – but his replacement Asano was one of those who turned the clash on its head. Along with other second half arrivals Kaoru Mitoma, Takumi Minamino and Ritsu Doan. All three combined for the 75th minute equaliser, Mitoma releasing Minamino down the left to allow him an angled drive Manuel Neuer could only push into the path of Doan, who stuck it away with venom. It allowed Japan to produce an almighty sting in the tale eight minutes later as FIFA’s shielding of Qatar continues to come back to bite them.