A new low for Germany, Croatia show their age and Japan just won't lie down: Five takeaways from day 12 of World Cup 2022

Germany's players gesture to fans at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group E football match between Costa Rica and Germany at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on December 1, 2022.
(Image credit: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

Day 12 of World Cup 2022 (opens in new tab) might just have been the maddest of the tournament yet, as heavyweights fells; underdogs had their day; and everything just generally reminded us of why we LOVE football.

Here are FFT's five big takeaways from the penultimate helping of group action in Qatar...

'The Germans always win' – except they don't

Kai Havertz of Germany looks dejected after their sides' elimination from the tournament during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Costa Rica and Germany at Al Bayt Stadium on December 01, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.

(Image credit: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

"Football is a simple game," Gary Lineker famously began after England went out to West Germany on penalties at Italia '90. "22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and in the end, the Germans always win."

Back then, that quote wasn't all that far from the literal truth – the Germans were a force to be reckoned with, winning that World Cup and the Euros six years later – but after their second successive group stage exit... Not so much.

We knew before this tournament that Germany were a team in transition, but Hansi Flick's young squad contained more than enough quality to comfortably navigate a group also containing Spain, Japan and Costa Rica – or so it seemed.

Despite drawing 1-1 with with Spain on Matchday 2 and running out 4-2 winners in a helter-skelter final group clash against Costa Rica, Germany's tournament-opening 2-1 defeat to Japan ultimately did for them; they were bullied in that game, looking a shadow of the formidable German sides of years gone by.

They also paid the price for wastefulness in front of goal: Germany had a (so far) tournament-high 17 big chances (five more than the next best-placed country, France) – and scored with only six of them.

If anyone can, Japan can

Ritsu Doan of Japan celebrates after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Japan and Spain at Khalifa International Stadium on December 01, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

(Image credit: Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images)

Not many will have fancied Japan's chances of getting out of a group featuring two of the last three World Cup winners – but they clearly fancied themselves.

Kicking off their campaign by coming from behind to beat Germany 2-1 set the Samurai Blue up nicely heading into their second game against Costa Rica – which they somehow lost 1-0 because, well, football.

That meant they likely needed a result against Spain – who had thumped Costa Rica 7-0 – if they were to reach the last 16 for the fourth time, and the second World Cup running.

So of course they went and did exactly what they did to Germany, coming from a goal down to triumph 2-1 – and they did it with just 17.7% possession, the lowest recorded figure in World Cup history (opens in new tab).

Japan's second historic victory of surely their greatest World Cup showing (they've never been beyond the last 16) saw them secure top spot in the group – becoming the first Asian nation to do since 2002, when they and South Korea co-hosted the finals and both achieved the feat.

Unai Simon at fault as Spain flirt with disaster

Unai Simon of Spain reacts after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Japan and Spain at Khalifa International Stadium on December 01, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

(Image credit: FIFA via Getty Images)

When Spain took the lead against Japan through Alvaro Morata after 12 minutes, it looked like La Roja were en route to a routine win. That goal put Luis Enrique’s side top of Group E with seven points and there was no sign of what was to come as they remained on top throughout the first half.

But just like they did against Germany in their opening match, Japan produced a stirring second-half fightback. From a Spanish perspective, it did not make good viewing. Goalkeeper Unai Simon has not looked comfortable with his feet in this World Cup and gave the ball away in the lead-up to Japan’s equaliser, a long-range effort by Ritsu Doan which he should have saved but could only push into the corner of his net. His form is a worry ahead of the knockout stages. 

Japan’s second was controversial as it looked like the ball had gone out of play before Ao Tanaka netted but Spain had been in complete control and Luis Enrique’s side were unable to find a way back into the game after that. At one point, they were even heading out as Costa Rica briefly took the lead against Germany. And although they did make it through in the ned, this was something of a wake-up call. Such sloppiness from now will prove much more costly.

It's not just Belgium that looked old

Luka Modric World Cup 2022 Croatia

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Much of the discourse surrounding Belgium has centred on their age, with Kevin De Bruyne first starting the narrative by suggesting the nation couldn't win the World Cup because "we're too old".

However, it wasn't just Belgium who looked old during their final Group F match. Indeed, Croatia were sluggish across the pitch, playing without any real tempo as the game finished in a very drab 0-0. No player on the pitch looked capable of grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck for Croatia, even with players such as Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic.

Both looked slightly tired, and, while Modric still displayed his usual qualities, the 37-year-old struggled with the pace of the game at times and still couldn't impose his influence. Judging by their group stage performances against Morocco and Belgium, it looks doubtful they'll go far in the tournament. 

The main player who looked exciting for Croatia was Josko Gvardiol, a 20-year-old defender who put his body on the line to stop Belgium from scoring, securing his nation's spot in the last-16 of the World Cup. Without him, and they could well have conceded against a poor Belgium side. 

Morocco become just the fifth African side to top a World Cup group

Morocco World Cup

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Not since 1998 has an African nation managed to finish as winners of a World Cup group, but Morocco have finally ended that 24-year spell by finishing first in Group F.

While it was an admittedly poor group containing Belgium, Croatia and Canada, the feat is still admirable - especially when considering Morocco weren't given much of a chance of progressing to the knockout stages, let alone win the group. 

Following in the footsteps of the 1986 Morocco team, Cameroon in 1990, and Nigeria in 1994 and 1998, this Morocco side at World Cup 2022 have even managed to go unbeaten during their three games, accumulating seven points through their strong teamwork and disciplined approach to games. 

They managed to stave off Croatian pressure in their opening game and escape with a 0-0 draw, before outplaying Belgium with a 2-0 victory in the next match. A 2-1 win against the already-eliminated Canada ensured they topped the group, replicating what their nation did in 1986. 

An African nation has never managed to reach the semi-finals in World Cup history - Morocco couldn't be the first, could they?

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Ryan Dabbs
Staff writer

Ryan is a staff writer for FourFourTwo, joining the team full-time in October 2022. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before eventually earning himself a position with FourFourTwo permanently. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer while a Trainee News Writer at Future. 

With contributions from