Germany crashed out of the FIFA World Cup on a remarkable night of drama despite a 4-2 victory over Costa Rica at Al Bayt Stadium.
Japan’s controversial 2-1 victory against Spain would have eliminated Germany anyway, but Hansi Flick’s side needed three points to give themselves any chance of reaching the last 16.
They completed their part of the bargain, but it was to no avail as the four-time champions finished third in the group and were eliminated on goal difference.
It could have been a different story after Japan’s winning goal in the other Group E match was initially ruled out because the officials thought the ball had gone out of play before it was put into the net, but the decision was overturned by VAR.
Germany were in complete control and in front through Serge Gnabry’s 10th-minute header, only for Costa Rica to turn the match on its head to raise the remarkable possibility of Spain also going out.
Yeltsin Tejeda equalised after Germany keeper Manuel Neuer pushed out Kendall Waston’s header in the 58th minute, before Neuer was deemed to have the final touch for the second goal 12 minutes later when Juan Pablo Vargas bundled in from close range.
At that stage, Costa Rica were going through with Japan, and Spain were heading for the exit.
It would have capped one of the most astonishing nights in World Cup history, but Germany substitute Kai Havertz restored a measure of normality with two clinical finishes to extinguish Costa Rica’s hopes of springing a major shock.
Substitute Niclas Fullkrug added a last-minute fourth to confirm victory, but it will be of no consolation as Germany failed to reach the knockout stage of the tournament for the second time in succession.
This was also a match that made history as an all-female officiating team took charge of a men’s World Cup game for the first time, with France’s Stephanie Frappart refereeing, joined by assistant referees Neuza Back from Brazil and Karen Diaz Medina from Mexico.
Croatia 0, Belgium 0
Belgium have been knocked out of the World Cup at the group stage as Croatia progressed at their expense with a goalless draw in Qatar.
Roberto Martinez’s side, who finished third in Russia four years ago and are ranked second in the world, have had a disappointing tournament with just one win and one goal in their three matches.
They produced another lacklustre display against Croatia despite knowing victory was necessary to progress to the last 16.
Substitute Romelu Lukaku had numerous chances in the second half but his failure to convert any sealed his country’s fate.
Lukaku, searching for sharpness following injury, hit the post from in front of goal, poked an effort wide when well-placed and reacted too slowly when the ball hit him in the six-yard box in stoppage time.
Croatia, finalists in 2018, got the point they needed to progress from Group F as runners-up, with Morocco taking top spot thanks to a 2-1 win against Canada.
Japan 2, Spain 1
Japan scored a controversial winner as they staged another extraordinary World Cup comeback to top Group E ahead of Spain and reach the last 16.
Ao Tanaka claimed Japan’s second goal after the Video Assistant Referee ruled the ball had not gone out of play before substitute Kaoru Mitoma crossed from the byeline, even though on first viewing it appeared to have done so.
It proved the decisive moment in a stunning performance against a Spain side who were fortunate to join Japan in the knockout stage.
In a tournament that has been full of shocks, this was perhaps the most dramatic night so far, with Spain left relying on the result of Germany’s game with Costa Rica for them to progress.
All four teams had started the evening with a chance of progressing but with Spain needing only a draw to qualify, they were not expected to need any favours from elsewhere.
La Roja were cruising at the break after Alvaro Morata headed home Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross from close range, but Japan would quickly turn the game – and the whole of Group E – on its head.
The Samurai Blue sent on substitutes Ritsu Doan and Mitoma at half-time and within six minutes of the restart they had both made a huge impact.
Doan equalised with a fierce shot from the edge of the area and, only 142 seconds later, Mitomo retrieved Doan’s low cross and found Tanaka to bundle home from close range in dramatic circumstances.
The goal was initially ruled out by the assistant referee who signalled Doan’s cross had gone out of play, but the VAR ruled Mitomo had reached it in time.
Morocco 2, Canada 1
Morocco edged past Canada to top Group F and reach the World Cup knockout stage for the first time in 36 years.
The Atlas Lions, whose previous trip to the last 16 came in 1986, finished above 2018 finalists Croatia, while Belgium – ranked second in the world – are out after finishing third in the group.
A tough test awaits in the next round as they come up against 2010 champions Spain on Tuesday.
Morocco went ahead after just four minutes courtesy of a goalkeeping howler from Milan Borjan.
The Canada keeper sprinted out of his goal but passed the ball straight to Hakim Ziyech, who lofted a cool finish into an open net from 30 yards.
The north African side doubled their advantage through Youssef En-Nesyri’s well-taken goal as he controlled Achraf Hakimi’s superb pass before firing in.
But sloppy defending gave Canada a route back into the game when West Ham’s Nayef Aguerd stuck a boot out to divert the ball into his own net – the 100th goal scored at this World Cup. (BBC)