Spain 1-2 Japan, Germany 4-2 Costa Rica
In the Group of Death, top-of-table Spain (4 points) took on second-place Japan (3 points), while third-place Costa Rica (3 points) faced Germany (1 point).
Being the obvious underdogs, Japan and Costa Rica sat back, barely even looking for a chance to counter. Spain and Germany translated their dominance into one goal each. Germany’s goal was scored by Serge Gnabry’s header assisted by David Raum’s cross in the 10th minute. Spain’s goal was delivered by Alvaro Morata’s header assisted by Cesar Azpilicueta’s pin-point cross only 2 minutes later. The goals put Spain and Germany at the top of the table at halftime.
In the second half, complacency hit both the German and Spanish teams. All Japan had to do was to press high on relaxed defenders until Junya Ito dispossessed Balde and headed the ball to Ritsu Doan, whose long shot was too hard for Unai Simon to save at the 48th minute. Japan rode the was of the comeback and three minutes later Ao Tanaka scored the second goal (originally disallowed but later confirmed by VAR), assisted by Kaoru Mitoma.
Losing 2-1 was not enough to knock out Spain since Germany needed to overcome a 7 goal difference to take over the second spot.
Unfortunately for the Germans, it was Costa Rica who scored next. Yeltsin Tejeda scored from a bouncing ball from a poorly-saved shot by Manuel Neuer. Then 12 minutes later (minute 70), Lady Luck smiled once again on Costa Rica, the ball ending up in the back of the net after ping-pong session in front of the German net. The goal officially went down as as an own goal on Neuer!
At that point we were looking at one of the most dramatic days in the history of football, since that scoreline would have meant that Japan and Costa Rica would advance to the Round of 16, leaving Germany and Spain behind.
But the Costa Rican celebrations lasted only 3 minutes, as Kai Havertz scored twice before Niclas Fullkurg closed the match at 4-2 in favour of Germany, which gifted Spain second place while Japan held out until the final whistle to win the group.
Japan will move on to play against Croatia in the round of 16 while Spain will face fellow dark horse Morocco.
Morocco 2-1 Canada
Croatia 0-0 Belgium
Group F leaders Croatia and second-place Morocco took on Belgium and Canada, respectively, with Canada already eliminated and playing only for pride. Morocco started the match against Canada with little pressure, knowing there were few scenarios that would see them fail to qualify. Nevertheless, Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan gifted Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech an empty net by playing an errant pass that was not hard for the Chelsea player to lob in. The goal put Morocco temporarily ahead of Croatia in the table rank.
Later, Achraf Hakimi set up Sevilla striker Youssef En Nesyri to extend Morocco’s lead to 2-0. Canada took one back five minutes before halftime when Morocco’s Nayef Aguerd accidentally misdirected a cross into his own net.
Meanwhile, Belgium was still struggling for form at the start of their match, with Croatia happy to settle for a draw rather than risk conceding by committing more bodies to attack.
In both games, the second half was a repeat of the first half: Belgium and Canada had the better part of possession and goal threat, with Morocco and Croatia content to sit back and counter. In the end the second half of both matches concluded without a change in the scoreline, which means Belgium now joins Canada as a nonqualifier for the Round of 16.
Who could have predicted that both Belgium and Denmark would crash out in the Group Stage? Will the trend stop here or will we see more unexpected exits in the remaining groups?