The first match was earmarked as the biggest game in the group-stages ever since the World Cup draw. The reason behind that was the history between the two teams playing that match. The other match had to be labelled as a ‘big’ game due to people’s interest as tickets for that match was the first to get ‘sold out’.
Coincidentally, less than four days after the World Cup began, the interest surrounding both those games has reached its peak. Because, the outcomes of these games could very well dictate which way the World Cup is headed.
The first match is Spain-Germany. Out of the eight groups in the World Cup, there is only one group where two former World Cup winners have been slotted together, which is Group E. A match between these two teams will always be labelled as a ‘big’ game, regardless of which stage of the tournament the match takes place.
But now, the match has become even bigger. The complexion of this encounter has completely changed. The match, which was expected to be the group champion deciding game ever since the World Cup draw on 27 November, has now turned into a battle for survival for Germany.
The second match, the tickets for which were the first to get sold out, has also become a do-or-die encounter for another former champion.
The match against Mexico was regarded as Argentina’s toughest match in the group. But now, calling it just a difficult match is not enough. Tomorrow’s (Friday) match against Mexico is a battle to keep Lionel Messi’s World Cup dreams alive. Will the unthinkable defeat against Saudi Arabia remain an isolated loss or will it end up leaving a far greater impact, this match could decide it.
Messi and co. will take the field with the risk of getting eliminated from the group-stage for the first time since the 2002 World Cup looming over their heads.
Germany, however, don’t have to look back that far. In the 2018 World Cup in Russia, defending champions Germany got eliminated from the first round.
Japan stun Germany 2-1 at World Cup
Germany had started that World Cup campaign with a defeat against Mexico and ended it with a defeat to South Korea. The defeat against Japan is naturally bringing back memories of that nightmare in the German camp. After seeing Spain inundate Costa Rica with goals, those fears have only worsened.
The way Spain toyed with Costa Rica in a match where they completed over a thousand passes, sent a warning to every title contender. But other teams can worry about Spain later while Germany has to search for a way to save themselves from the Spanish onslaught right now.
This picture of the German team taken before their match against Japan went viral on social media. The likes of Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller covered their mouths with their hands to protest FIFA’s decision to bar them from wearing the ‘One Love’ arm band.
A few other teams were also supposed to wear the armband. Those teams are also miffed about FIFA’s restriction. But no other team has protested against it on the field. Hence, this symbolic protest from Germany earned praises from liberal and open minded people and from their countrymen.
But after Germany’s defeat, some are viewing the protest in a different light. Germany’s 1990 World Cup winning captain Lothar Matthaus said, the Germany team was thinking a bit too much about off-field issues before the match. If he didn’t see any correlation between the protest and the defeat, surely, he wouldn’t have made such a comment.
This is the second ever World Cup in Asia. The first edition, which happened 20 years ago, witnessed the best ever result from an Asian team. One of the hosts South Korea played well and were assisted by some controversial refereeing to qualify to the semifinal.
The other host Japan’s campaign ended in the second round, which is still their best ever finish in the World Cup. They couldn’t surpass it in the last World Cup, after losing an agonising defeat at the second round against Belgium.
The World Cup has returned to Asia and both upsets that have shaken up the World Cup have been achieved by Asian teams.
Japan’s win over Germany, as expected, is being hailed as a ‘historic achievement’. This has also changed Doha’s reputation in Japan’s football history. Till now, the word Doha would remind the Japanese of a heart wrenching defeat.
29 years ago, Japan played Iraq in a 1994 World Cup qualifier match. Japan was leading Iraq 2-1. A win would’ve ensure them their maiden berth at the World Cup. But those dreams evaporated after Iraq scored in added time to level the margin.
In Japanese football, that match is known as ‘Agony in Doha’. The word Doha is now exuding a completely different emotion for Japan. The Japanese media has named the victory over Germany as the ‘Miracle in Doha’.
Till now, the word ‘miracle’ was used for only one World Cup match in particular, West Germany’s win over the unbeatable Hungary in the 1954 World Cup final. A movie has also been made on that match.
But now, there are two such ‘miracles’. The irony of fate is that the one’s who had achieved the ‘miracle’ 68 years back, have now fallen victim to the ‘miracle’.
*The report appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy