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The 2022 World Cup has been undeniably exciting throughout the group stage.
But perhaps no day has been more unexpected than Thursday, with major countries playing for their World Cup lives.
Belgium, Germany and Spain were all pre-tournament favorites who were expected to make deep runs throughout the Cup. Each of them was in the top eight in terms of odds to win the entire tournament.
Yet all three came in uncertain of whether or not they would advance out of the group stage.
Group E in particular was seen by some as a “group of death” with Germany, Spain, Japan and Costa Rica.
Belgium, meanwhile, had a seemingly easier path, sharing their group with Morocco, Canada and Croatia.
Early results seemed to indicate that Belgium and Spain would sail through to the knockout round. The Belgians secured a hard fought 1-0 win over Canada in their opening match, while Spain utterly humiliated Costa Rica 7-0.
Germany, though, suffered a shocking 2-1 loss to Japan.
They still had a pathway to advance after a 1-1 tie with Spain, but those chances ended today.
Germany faced Costa Rica needing a win and Japan loss, or some goal differential help in a draw to advance. They got the win, but not the help they needed.
In fact, Japan knocked the Germans out with one of the most unusual World Cup victories you’ll ever see.
The Japanese possessed the ball for just 17.7% of their match, yet beat Spain 2-1. That was the lowest ever possession percentage to result in a World Cup win. Ever. Literally, ever.
Their lead also came on one of the closest possible refereeing decisions.
The winning goal was scored immediately after Japan appeared to just barely keep a ball from going out. Even the commentators assumed it would be overturned, but VAR confirmed the goal, giving them the lead.
BTW. This was the margin by which the ball was kept in on the winning goal. A slither of an inch between wildest dreams coming true and the nightmare of defeat pic.twitter.com/wQrFZSqVbL— roger bennett (@rogbennett) December 1, 2022
Soon afterwards, Costa Rica took the lead over Germany, which would have sent both Spain AND Germany home.
Although the Germans stormed back, it was a shocking few minutes for World Cup fans. With Germany and Spain in the group of death, Japan and Costa Rica would have advanced.
As it is, Japan stands atop Group E, with wins over Germany and Spain and a loss to Costa Rica. They beat the two toughest teams in the group and lost to the easiest opponent. Totally nuts.
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Belgium, meanwhile, lost 2-0 to Morocco in their second group stage match, but still had an opportunity to get through today.
Needing just a win over Croatia, the Belgians wasted opportunity after opportunity.
Romelu Lukaku missed a wide open chance late in the match, and Croatia were happy to see out a 0-0 draw.
As -200 favorites to win the group, Belgium’s now out, as Morocco took the top spot. Pre-tournament, Morocco was +1100 to win its group. Japan was an even longer shot at +1200. Yet, both accomplished the feat.
Just goes to show you that writing off the United States as underdogs might not be the best idea.
So after a crazy Thursday afternoon, Germany and Belgium are going home, and Spain squeaks through on goal differential. Insanity.
But hey, at least for the Germans they got to spend a few nights with their wives and girlfriends before heading out.