Cesar Azpilicueta assists and Kai Havertz scores twice as Spain survive but Germany exit…
At half-time in Thursday’s deciding Group E games at the World Cup it was looking good for both European football powerhouses involved. Spain and Germany were leading their games 1-0 and were on top in those contests, and at that stage were occupying the top-two positions in the table. However dramatic second halves were to follow.
Spain eventually lost 2-1 to Japan, a defeat that had it cost them qualification would have been especially galling for Cesar Azpilicueta who came off at half-time with his side in the lead and had provided the assist for Alvaro Morata to score their goal.
However they still finished second and go through to the last-16, unlike Germany despite their 4-2 win over Costa Rica.
Kai Havertz came on during the second half with the score 1-1 in that game and having then seen his side go 2-1 behind, scored twice in the ultimately fruitless victory. The other result did not go the way they needed.
Azpilicueta, a starter in Spain’s massive opening win over Costa Rica but unused in the meeting with Germany on Sunday, was back in Luis Enrique’s chosen 11 tonight.
In contrast Havertz, having started the first group game for Germany but another who remained on the bench in the draw with Spain, was again named as one of the subs.
Germany came into their game facing the possibility of exiting at the group stage for the second World Cup running. To avoid that ignominy for the four-times previous winners knew they must beat Costa Rica while hoping that Japan did not beat Spain.
The Spaniards were in a healthier position having won one and drawn one. Leading the group by one point before kick-off, their fate was totally in their hands.
It did not take long for the 2010 winners to improve their position further and it was thanks to a connection seen so often during their days playing together for Chelsea. Azpilicueta provided the cross from the right and our former centre-forward Morata headed home from within the six-yard box.
Morata worked the goalkeeper with a shot later in a first half in which the odd defensive lapse apart, Spain were comfortable at the back while probing for a second goal and dominating possession in characteristic style.
However they were severely shocked soon after the restart when first they made a mess of playing out from the back and Ritsu Doan levelled. Moments later the Japanese bundled the ball into the net again to take the lead, the award of the goal surviving a check for the ball going out of play in the immediate build-up. It was a VAR review that ultimately cost Germany playing in the other game dearly.
Azpilicueta only had a distant view of the drama, having been replaced by Dani Carvajal at the interval and without him, Spain could not turn the deficit around.
Like the Spaniards, Germany started their game well. Jamal Musiala had an early shot saved, Thomas Muller headed wide wastefully, but Serge Gnabry was accurate when a heading chance came his way pretty much at the same moment Spain were going 1-0 ahead as well.
Though dominating, just before half-time former Blue Toni Rudiger made a mistake that looked likely to cost a goal but his goalkeeper Manuel Neuer came to Germany’s rescue with a great save.
However in the second half, despite making an initial save, a shot bounced off Neuer and Costa Rica’s Yeltsin Tejeda made the score 1-1.
A Rudiger shot then skimmed the outside of the post, not the only time Germany hit the woodwork, and instead it was Costa Rica who took the lead with a scrappy effort following a free-kick, which goes down as a Neuer own goal.
Their lead did not last long as Havertz was on and the ball came the Chelsea man's way. His right boot put Germany level from inside the penalty area with 72 minutes played.
With five minutes of the 90 left, Havertz restored the lead, scoring from close range at the far post from a low cross. Another substitute, Niclas Fullkrug, made it 4-2 but at that stage what Germany needed more was a Spain equaliser against Japan. It did not come.
Having finished second in Group E, Spain and Azpi now play Hakim Ziyech and Morocco on Tuesday. On Monday, Japan take on Mateo Kovacic’s Croatia for a place in the quarter-finals. Germany go home having finished behind Spain on goal difference.