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Did the ball cross the line?
That is the age-old World Cup question for Germany, who crashed out as Japan beat Spain thanks to an opinion-dividing winner that left many scratching their heads.
Kaoru Mitoma’s cutback for Ao Tanaka’s tap-in happened just after the ball looked to have crossed the byeline.
Even after cropping and zooming it looked incredibly close. Eventually it was ruled that the ball had not fully crossed the line.
In other words, if you drew an imaginary line upwards at 90 degrees from the far edge of the whitewash, it would have still passed through the curve of the ball – albeit only just – even though the part of the ball that touched the ground had fully crossed the line.
The goal was initially ruled out by the assistant referee after a long pause, then the video assistant referee (VAR) intervened and ultimately Japan’s lead would stand – and they would go on to win.
Fifa said on Friday that “the video match officials used the goalline camera images to check if the ball was still partially on the line”.
It added: “Other cameras may offer misleading images but on the evidence available, the whole of the ball was not out of play.”
“I have seen a photo that must have been tampered with, it cannot be that this photo is real. It has to be manipulated,” said Spain boss Luis Enrique.
“I felt that something fishy was going on when the VAR took as much time as it did to decide… I have nothing to say.
“Luckily, the team only goes into collapse mode once every four years, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to cope.”
The controversy evoked memories of Frank Lampard’s “ghost goal” against Germany in 2010, when England went out in the last 16, and – no doubt for German fans of a certain vintage – of 1966 and Geoff Hurst’s extra-time effort when England won the World Cup.
In Qatar, those three points for Japan meant Germany were out, the four-time winners falling at the group stage for a second consecutive tournament.
It was just one moment on a World Cup night full of spinetingling drama.
A rollercoaster night in Group E
It was a frantic and thrilling Thursday night which began with Belgium, the side ranked second in the world, being eliminated by a goalless draw with Croatia in Group F.
And halfway through the second half of the late games, both Germany and 2010 winners Spain were set for an early exit.
At the break Germany had a comfortable 1-0 lead over Costa Rica, with Spain also winning 1-0 as both European sides seemed to be cruising into the last 16.
Then the drama unfolded. Japan levelled against Spain four minutes into the second period.
Then, incredibly, 142 seconds later they were in front. Japan and Spain, despite trailing, were heading through. With just under 40 minutes to go Germany and Costa Rica were going out.
“The Japan fans around me can barely believe their eyes,” said BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan. “An incredible turnaround from their team, with the added drama of a long VAR delay.”
“Japan are a completely different animal,” added former England defender Matthew Upson.
Defeat for Spain wasn’t a disaster, unless Costa Rica – then 1-0 down to Germany – took the lead.
But Costa Rica equalised in the 58th minute, and after 70 minutes they were ahead. At 2-1 Costa Rica were suddenly set to advance with Japan at Spain’s expense.
However, that lead lasted for only three minutes before Kai Havertz levelled for Germany.
“Germany desperately needed that,” said BBC Radio 5 Live’s Connor McNamara. “It may not be enough for them but it could save Spain.”
“It’s hard to keep up with what is happening at the moment,” added Bevan. “There were huge roars here from the Japan fans when the big screen flashed up what the group looked like with Costa Rica winning… but then seconds later the Spain fans to my right celebrated wildly after hearing that Germany had equalised.”
‘The tension is unbearable’
Germany would hit two further goals to win 4-2. But, as long as Japan held on to all three points against Spain, the champions in 2014 would go out.
“The tension is unbearable,” chuckled Upson.
Spain kept on coming but Japan, dodgy goal or not, survived until full-time, winning 2-1. They and Spain, despite their defeat, reached the last 16. Germany and Costa Rica were out.
Spain boss Enrique said he was not aware his side were on course to head out of the tournament when Costa Rica led Germany.
“If I had found out, I would have had a heart attack,” he confessed.
For Germany forward Thomas Muller, the night had turned into an “absolute catastrophe”.
“It is unbelievably bitter for us because our result would have been enough,” he added. “It’s a feeling of powerlessness.”
Team-mate Havertz, meanwhile, said it was “like watching a horror movie”.
“For the second tournament in a row, Germany go out in the group stages,” added McNamara. “One of the really big guns, one of the four-time winners of the World Cup, they are out of Qatar 2022. It’s one of those nights where it just hasn’t been enough.”
“Incredible doesn’t do it justice,” said BBC Radio 5 Live chief football reporter Ian Dennis. “The drama fluctuated throughout the course of the second half.
“We’ve had a game that was the football equivalent of snakes and ladders.”
However, former England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley summed it up best – simply saying: “It was chaos.”
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