Kai Havertz played 79 minutes for Germany as they suffered a surprise defeat to Japan in their opening game of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The result brings back bad memories for the Germans, who exited at the group stage four years ago having lost their first game to Mexico. At the Khalifa International Stadium today they led for a long time against Japan, but two goals in eight second-half minutes late on secured a famous win for the Blue Samurai.

With Spain up next, Germany’s World Cup hopes once again hang by a thread.

Havertz, wearing the number seven shirt, led the line for Germany ahead of a dynamic trio of Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala, the youngster once of the Chelsea Academy.

After Japan had an early goal ruled out for offside, Germany began to dominate possession and territory without finding much fluency in the final third.

Former Blue Toni Rudiger headed wide from a corner Havertz won, Joshua Kimmich had a strike from range punched away and Ilkay Gundogan saw an effort blocked as Germany’s threat increased.

Germany lead but Havertz denied

That spell of pressure culminated in the opening goal. David Raum was brought down by Shuichi Gonda, the Japanese keeper, and Gundogan stepped up to score.

Havertz had the ball in the net in first half stoppage time but was denied a first World Cup goal after a VAR check showed he had strayed offside converting Gnabry’s cutback from a couple of yards out.

Japan responded by mustering their best chance, Daizen Maeda glancing a header wide, so it was the 2014 champions who went in 1-0 up at the break.

Musiala nearly doubled their advantage early in the second half, blazing over at the end of a mazy dribble, and a Havertz flick released the same man and he found Gundogan, denied a second goal only by the outside of the post.

By the hour mark the contest had opened up as Japan showed greater willingness to get men forward, trying to feed on German nerves while it remained 1-0, and making good use of their subs.

Stunning turnaround

On 70 minutes it needed Gonda to make a quartet of saves in quick succession to keep it that way, most impressively denying Gnabry and sub Jonas Hoffman. Good hold-up play from Havertz had initiated the German break.

It looked like those misses would cost Germany just a couple of minutes later, but Manuel Neuer, now 36, produced a stunning one-handed save to deny Junya Ito. Hiroki Sakai blazed the rebound over the gaping goal.

The reprieve didn’t last long. The Samurai Blue levelled with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, sub Ritsu Doan firing into the empty net after Neuer had pushed the initial shot from Takumi Minamino out.

Havertz was replaced by Werder Bremen’s Niclas Fullkrug in the 79th minute, but it was Japan who held the initiative and it was they who stunningly went ahead through Takuma Asano, another sub making a big impact. He delicately controlled an innocuous long ball, carried the ball into the box and from the tightest of angles fired a shot into the roof of Neuer’s net.

In seven minutes of added time Rudiger blasted a trademark long-ranger wide and Leon Goretzka whistled a half-volley past the post, but the Japanese were good value for their victory.

Germany play Spain on Sunday evening knowing a defeat will likely see them bow out of the World Cup at the first hurdle for the second tournament running.