In an absolute roller-coaster of a game in Doha tonight, Japan completed an unforgettable comeback against Germany on the back of a second-half surge where they flipped the switch at half-time on Hansi Flick’s men who were (seemingly) fully in control in the first half.
Real Madrid center-back Antonio Rudiger started in the defensive line alongside his partner Nico Schlotterbeck. Rudiger, it should be noted, was pretty well foot-perfect for the entire 90 minutes, but did slip on a couple occassions in the second half.
This game can be dissected by each half, with the half-time interval being the tipping point which reversed the script. In the first frame, Germany were comfortable, dominated possession, and generated enough chances to go up two goals. As Japan deployed a mid-block and allowed the first few passes out of the back, they also had trouble marking overloads from Raum on the left side. The German left-back was left open in the box on several occassions, and in one moment in particular, Joshua Kimmich found him with a beautiful pass, leading to Raum getting taken down in the box. Germany opened the scoring from the ensuing penalty.
On the defensive end, Rudiger stood out for Germany. Though Flick’s men limited counter-attacks (for perspective: Manuel Neuer had 10 more touches than any Japanese player in the first half), Rudiger dealt with everything expertly. His step-up interventions were flawless — as was his tracking. He blocked crosses, distributed the ball well, and nearly scored at the far post from a header on a corner kick in the first half.
He even had his staple high-knee sprint in the second half in what looked like, at the time, a fun stamp on a great night:
Does Rudiger run like that just to troll? Like it’s almost as if he’s laughing while doing it. I respect it greatly.
— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) November 23, 2022
What changed for him and Germany, ultimately, was that Japan decided to be more aggressive in the second half. Hajime Moriyasu’s men moved their line higher up the pitch and started to press and hound Germany’s back-line. While that did open more transition opportunities for Germany, it also made the second half infinitely more fun, and the trade-off for Japan was a no-brainer: They had a massive offensive surge in the second frame (with a big up-tick in field tilt around the 75th minute) and deserved their two goals.
Rudiger’s importance was magnified in the second half, as he started to get stretched and came away with several crucial interventions in the box. He had little fault on Japan’s goals. Though, after going down 2 – 1, Rudiger did have a couple slips where he lost control of the ball under pressure. Neither of those mistakes resulted in a goal, but the damage at that point was done.
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