Hajime Moriyasu was a midfielder on the Japan national team 29 years ago when the “Agony of Doha” hit.
It’s all over now that he’s the coach.
At the Khalifa International Stadium, Japan beat 2010 champion Spain 2-1 on Thursday to win its World Cup group. At the same venue last week, the team beat Germany by the same score.
He thought about the game in Qatar against Iraq in 1993 that cost the team a spot in the next year’s tournament as time wound down against Spain.
After the win over Spain, Moriyasu said, “I remember the tragedy in Doha one minute before the end.”
In stoppage time, Japan conceded after leading 2-1 and knowing one goal for the opposition would end the qualifier. Both their World Cup hopes and Moriyasu’s chances at playing at the world’s biggest soccer tournament ended.
There was a difference this time. The defense held up this time. After winning Group E, 54-year-old Moriyasu got his Hollywood ending.
Moriyasu said, praising his team’s aggressive defense, that “times have changed.”. “They’re playing a new kind of soccer,” he said.
Japan’s captain, 34-year-old Maya Yoshida, typified their resistance on the field. As a loose ball bounced in front of an empty net in the 90th minute after goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda blocked Jordi Alba’s shot, the veteran defender reacted fastest.
The ball was cleared by Yoshida, who twisted his body to beat Marco Asensio. Minutes later, Spain’s Dani Olmo took control, but Gonda smothered his shot.
On offense, Japan scored in the 48th and 51st minutes. Germany scored in the 75th and 83rd.
“We were dismantled in 10 minutes,” Luis Enrique said.
Croatia is next, a team that reached the final in Russia four years ago. For the first time, Japan would reach the World Cup quarterfinals with a win on Monday.
“We’re gifting this win to the people of Japan,” the coach said.