|Japanese fans roaring after the final whistle. — AFP/VNA Photo|
HÀ NỘI — Group E, dubbed the "Group of Death" by pundits, was exciting until the final minutes.
The excitement also translated to Group F, where Belgium could have claimed their ticket into the knockouts had Romelu Lukaku found the net once in his five crazy misses.
Japan topped the Group of Death while Spain escaped in a stunning turn of events; Germany are eliminated.
Spain started the final round of Group E with more than a 90 per cent chance of progressing through the group stage, according to FiveThirtyEight.
La Furia Roja further boosted their chances by opening the scoring through Alvaro Morata's header in the 11th minute.
At the same time, in the match between Germany and Costa Rica, Die Mannschaft also opened the score from Serge Gnabry.
Spain dominated the first half, leaving Japan desperately chasing for the ball. Both Spain and Germany led at half-time 1-0.
Should these results hold, the two footballing giants would have progressed.
However, fate did not favour the favourites.
In the 48th minute, keeper Unai Simon's clearance was caught by Ritsu Doan, who scored a screamer and levelled the score.
Just three minutes later, Doan again danced in Spain's six-yard box. His pass to Kaoru Mitoma was millimetres from crossing over the byline, but the Brighton winger rescued it in the nick of time and crossed for Ao Tanaka to tap in the empty net.
Germany pushed forward in the Al Bayt Stadium, knowing Spain was losing 1-2. If Spain lost, Germany would need to win by eight goals.
But when Hansi Flick's men were still finding ways to reach Keylor Navas' goal, Costa Rica fought back. In the 58th minute, Kendall Watson's header at the near post was saved by Manuel Neuer, but the rebound met Yeltsin Tejeda, who equalised for Costa Rica.
In the 70th minute, Juan Pablo Vargas's header put Costa Rica in from a set piece.
Should these results stand, both Germany and Spain were out of the competition.
But Germany did not give up. Hansi Flick's men knew they had to do their best and score many goals.
Three minutes after Costa Rica had taken the lead, Kai Havertz went through on goal and hammered in the equaliser. He restored Germany's lead ten minutes later.
However, time was not on the German's side. Niclas Fullkrug's last-minute goal served only as a consolation and a big "What If?" for Hansi Flick's Germany. The game finished 4-2 to Germany.
Spanish fans at Khalifa breathed a sigh of relief as the final whistle from Al Bayt sounded. Japan held on to their flimsy 2-1 and in the process, led Group E. Spain progressed in second place on goal difference.
Japan, again, shocked the world by beating two former world champions.
Clumsy Lukaku spells doom for Belgium
Belgium faced Croatia in a match that they had to win to progress. Should they draw, The Red Devils would have to hope Canada beat Morocco.
As Morocco went first through Hakim Ziyech's goal in the 4th minute, Belgium snapped out of their complacency and out of Croatia's early pressure.
Morocco doubled their lead in the 20th minute and had the game well in their hands. The news reached Belgium, who hurried their attacks. Their best chance in the first half came to Dries Mertens, who hit the ball over the bar.
In the second half, Mertens was replaced by Romelu Lukaku, who became the centre of attention.
Belgium was gifted a golden chance in the 60th minute; Lukaku's shot at the empty net hit the post and flew outside.
Two minutes later, Lukaku again faced the empty net, but headed over the bar. Another chance came in the 87th minute for the Inter Milan player, but his shot was wide.
The most clumsy miss came in the 90th minute when Lukaku had an empty goal for the third time but couldn't convert.
Croatia survived with a goalless draw and progressed to second place. Morocco finished the match 2-1, still undefeated, and went atop Group F.
Croatia will face Japan in the round of 16, while Spain avoided a trickier draw in the knockouts and will face Morocco. — VNS