Germany may have joined Argentina in the ranks of the lowly by losing their first World Cup game, remarkably succumbing to Japan.
The conceding of two late goals that doomed them to a 2-1 defeat (the 83rd-minute winner finishing with aplomb after a ball launched from deep by Takuma Asano, who had replaced Celtic’s Daizen Maeda as one of a series of transforming substitutes) could be cataclysmic for Germany’s tournament hopes.
However, this is not a normal World Cup. And that fact means that what could impact their actions in an equally lasting way is their refusal to be intimidated by FIFA’s ban on them wearing the OneLove armband. A multicolored symbol of respect for diversity and human rights, it was conceived as a response to holding the finals in a Qatar where the rights of women, the LGBTQi community and migrant workers are trampled.
Germany, along with England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland, agreed to have their captains adorned with this cloth as the quietest form of protest before the final. Yet when FIFA threatened players who did so with yellow cards or removal from the field, so far England, Wales, Denmark and the Netherlands have meekly capitulated.
Not so the players from Germany and their soccer federation. By lining up for a team photo ahead of the start of their 2022 campaign, placing their hands over their mouths, the German starting lineup demonstrated that silencing them would not bring silent acquiescence. An image set to attract global attention, on the morning of the match it was reported that DfB had contacted the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) about the legality of FIFA’s threats regarding the OneLove bracelet. They then backed up their visual protest with statements on their Twitter account posted at the beginning of a meeting in which they stated that “denying us the bracelet is denying us our voice”; a voice that said it was not about “making a political statement: human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted because that’s not the case yet.”
By then they were embroiled in a contest in which it seemed they could take all the points for granted. Thanks to Ilkay Gundogan’s 38th-minute penalty conversion that followed goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda needlessly throwing himself at David Raum in the box, after an encounter of the pair.
Gonda then produced a couple of smart saves as Germany grew increasingly frustrated at his completion. Giving Japan their best moment in the international arena in a barely credible final stages, head coach Hajime Moriyasu made his opponents pay by boldly reshaping his team. Maeda hadn’t played badly: he had the ball in the net in the early minutes and it had drifted offside, and he came close with a lightning header, but his replacement, Asano, was one of those who turned the game around. shock. Along with other second half arrivals Kaoru Mitoma, Takumi Minamino and Ritsu Doan. The three combined for an equalizer on 75 minutes, Mitoma freeing Minamino on the left to allow an angled shot that Manuel Neuer could only push into the path of Doan, who saved it with venom. He allowed Japan to produce an almighty sting in history eight minutes later as the FIFA crest over Qatar continues to come back to bite them.