Another day of chaotic finishes captured our attention at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar on Thursday.
Germany was eliminated at the group stage for the second straight tournament despite beating Costa Rica 4-2.
Germany needed a victory and for Spain to defeat Japan in the other game in Group E in order to qualify, but the Samurai Blue won 2-1 over La Roja.
Japan used a second-half comeback against a European giant for the second time this tournament to help earn its place atop Group E. Spain went through as the second-place team.
Japan was the second team to confirm a surprising group victory on the day. In Group F, Morocco's 2-1 win over Canada saw it finish in first place.
A goalless draw between Croatia and Belgium allowed the former to move on in second place. That set up a round-of-16 showdown with Japan.
Morocco thought it would have an easier opponent in the round of 16 as the group winner, but instead, it will face Spain in the next round.
1. Japan - 6 points
2. Spain - 4 (advanced on goal differential)
3. Germany - 4
4. Costa Rica - 3
Japan 2, Spain 1
Germany 4, Costa Rica 2
Japan followed the same script to beat Spain as it did to defeat Germany in Group E.
The Samurai Blue went 1-0 down in the first half after an Álvaro Morata goal. The 30-year-old scored in every group game for Spain.
As in the win over Germany, Japan used some half-time adjustments to score two goals in quick succession. Ritsu Doan scored the equalizer in the 48th minute versus Spain, just like he did in the 75th minute against Germany.
Japan went ahead in the match three minutes later, when Ao Tanaka finished from close range. The goal had some controversy with it, as the ball appeared to go over the end line before a cross was played into Tanaka.
Spain was unable to pull back an equalizer in the second half, but it still went through on goal differential thanks to its seven-goal outburst in the opener against Costa Rica.
Germany had a gargantuan task on its hands in the second half vs. Costa Rica once Japan went ahead, as it had to make up an eight-goal gap on goal difference to have any hope of progressing.
Germany scored early through Serge Gnabry, but that was the only goal it managed in the opening half.
Costa Rica went ahead through two goals in the 58th and 70th minutes, and for a few minutes, the Ticos were on their way to the round of 16.
Germany answered with three straight goals, two of which came from Kai Havertz.
The three-goal flurry in the second half did not mean anything to Germany because it was still so far behind on goal differential compared to Spain, who went through with a five-goal edge. La Roja will play Morocco, while Japan gets Croatia in the round of 16.
1. Morocco - 7
2. Croatia - 5
3. Belgium - 4
4. Canada - 0
Morocco 2, Canada 1
Croatia 0, Belgium 0
Group F produced the most stunning table order of any of the six completed four-team pods.
Morocco became the first team this century from Africa to finish in first place in a World Cup group.
The Atlas Lions surged in front of Canada thanks to a goal each from Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri.
Ziyech took advantage of a poor passing sequence from the Canadian defense to open the scoring in the fourth minute. En-Nesyri flew down the right side of the box to coolly finish past Milan Borjan in the 23rd minute.
Canada pulled a goal back in the 40th minute, as Sam Adekugbe's cross took a deflection and rolled in for an own goal.
Canada pushed for an equalizer throughout the second half, but it was unable to earn its first point in Qatar. Canada and the host nation are the only two teams not to earn a point in the group stage.
While Morocco was busy wrapping up first place in Group F, Croatia and Belgium were fighting for the second advancement spot.
Croatia had a goal disallowed because of offside and a penalty-kick decision reversed by the video review system in the first half.
Belgium took control of the match in the second half once Romelu Lukaku stepped on the field. Lukaku had countless opportunities to find the back of the net, but he was unable to convert on any chance, and that led to Belgium being knocked out with a third-place finish.
Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runner-up, advanced with a second-place finish and only conceded one goal in the process. Croatia will be tough for Japan to break down in the round of 16 in what should be a close match.
Round of 16 Schedule
Netherlands vs. United States (10 a.m. ET, Fox)
Argentina vs. Australia (2 p.m. ET, Fox)
France vs. Poland (10 a.m. ET, FS1)
England vs. Senegal (2 p.m. ET, FS1)
Japan vs. Croatia (10 a.m. ET, Fox)
Group G winner vs. Group H second place (2 p.m. ET, Fox)
Morocco vs. Spain (10 a.m. ET, Fox)
Group H winner vs. Group G second place (2 p.m. ET, Fox)