Football News

Ritsu Doan: Freiburg’s ‘Japanese Lionel Messi’ inspires Samurai Blue comeback against Germany

By Ben Green

Published: 15:11, 23 November 2022

So far, it has been the World Cup of shock results, and that script-defying drama continued in Doha on Wednesday afternoon as Japan came from behind to beat European heavyweights Germany 2-1.

Hajime Moriyasu erred on the side of caution before kick-off, as the likes of Kaoru Mitoma, Takumi Minamino, Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano all started out on the bench — but it was his roll of the dice in the second half that inspired a turnaround of epic proportions.

Germany were dominant in a one-sided opening 45 minutes, in which Ilkay Gundogan broke the deadlock from the spot after Shuichi Gonda bundled David Raum to the ground. Hansi Flick’s men had several glorious chances to double their advantage, not least Serge Gnabry’s free header from close range, and Jamal Musiala’s blazed effort after some mesmeric foot work.

But, those squandered chances ultimately came back to bite the 2014 champions, as Moriyasu’s wholesale changes — to both personnel and system — changed the complexion of the tie, with Doan first restoring parity in the 75th minute, before Asano bagged the winner less than 10 minutes later.

There are echoes of 2018 to Germany’s opening-day defeat after they were put to the sword by a Hirving Lozano-inspired Mexico four years ago, before losing 2-0 to South Korea on matchday three to finish bottom in Group F and crash out of the tournament. Flick must now stem the bloody nose inflicted by Japan if the nation are to avoid another early exit. Next up? Spain.

The result comes just a day after Saudi Arabia pulled off arguably the greatest shock in World Cup history by beating a then 36-game unbeaten Argentina 2-1. Their historic moment in the sun also came after trailing 1-0 at half-time. Indeed complacency is a dangerous trait for football’s ‘big’ nations.

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And there’s almost a poetic irony in the Qatari capital, in that Japan’s two goals came from players who ply their trade in Germany. Doan, often referred to as Freiburg’s ‘Japanese Lionel Messi’ indeed, he has attempted (42) and completed (18) more take-ons than any other Freiburg player in the Bundesliga this season — ultimately delivered the first blow, before VfL Bochum’s Asano bagged one of the most famous goals in Japan’s history. The nation’s first-ever win over Germany.

This was actually Doan’s second goal against Manuel Neuer after breaching his net in a 4-1 defeat to Bayern Munich while playing for Arminia Bielefeld in October 2020, but this one will live longer in the memory for the tricky winger.

Indeed, it will live long in the memory for every Japan fan worldwide.