Germany slumped to a shock 4-1 home loss to Japan in their friendly on Saturday, deepening the sense of crisis hanging over the Euro 2024 hosts. Late goals from Takuma Asano and Ao Tanaka completed an embarrassing final scoreline for the hosts in Wolfsburg. It was the team’s third straight defeat, and fourth in five matches, with fewer than nine months to go before the tournament begins.
Junya Ito silenced the home crowd in the 11th minute, turning in a low cross at the far post. The hosts quickly bounced back, levelling in the 19th minute following a superb passing move and a left-footed finish from Leroy Sané.
Relief for the head coach, Hansi Flick, was short-lived as the visitors struck again just three minutes later. The Feyenoord forward Ayase Ueda wrong-footed the Germany keeper, Marc-André ter Stegen, after a neat move down the right wing.
Ter Stegen denied Japan another goal when Ueda pounced on a defensive error a little later to charge through, only to see his shot saved. Japan had two more quick chances in succession two minutes after the restart but Ter Stegen kept Germany in the game.
The Barcelona keeper was called on again in the 70th minute, first palming Asano’s close-range shot wide and then stopping Kaoru Mitoma’s rebound effort as all the pressure and chances went the way of the visitors.
Asano made amends in the 90th minute, slotting in to seal a repeat of their win over Germany at the 2022 World Cup. Tanaka then headed home a fourth in stoppage time as jeers and whistles rained from the stands.
“We have to be honest and say that Japan were better. They let the ball run, they played the right spaces, carved out their goals. They were better,” the Germany captain, Ilkay Gündogan, said. “We made far too many individual mistakes.
“We have to admit that we are just not on the same level with teams like the one today. We are just not good enough at the moment. That’s the reality. Maybe we even think we are better than we are.”
The four-times world champions have now won just four of their last 17 international matches, and Flick’s future is in serious doubt. The team badly need a positive result in their next friendly, against World Cup finalists France in Dortmund on Tuesday.
Bardhi spoils Spalletti’s Italy bow
Enis Bardhi’s stunning free-kick cancelled out Ciro Immobile’s header as North Macedonia earned an unlikely draw in their Euro 2024 qualifier on Saturday, spoiling Luciano Spalletti’s debut as Italy coach.
The Azzurri dominated the game in Skopje and Immobile netted with a cushioned header just after the break, following up after Nicolò Barella had hit the bar from distance. But midfielder Bardhi delighted the home crowd when he equalised with a free-kick from just outside the box that flew into the top right corner in the 81st minute.
Italy remain third in Group C, level on four points with fourth-placed North Macedonia but with a game in hand. The Euro 2020 winners also have two games in hand on the group leaders, England, who are nine points ahead. Italy host Ukraine (second with seven points) at San Siro on Tuesday in a critical game between two sides yet to meet.
In Group F, Belgium earned a narrow 1-0 victory in Azerbaijan to go top. Yannick Carrasco’s shot took a big deflection off Johan Bakayoko in the 38th minute, wrong-footing the keeper for what proved to be the winner in Baku after Leandro Trossard hit the post early on.
Sweden continued their impressive recent form with a 5-0 victory over Estonia in Tallinn. Five different scorers were on target for the visitors, with Viktor Gyökeres firing in the first goal before Dejan Kulusevski added a second and Alexander Isak headed home to make it 3-0 at the break.
Emil Forsberg was denied by Karl Hein’s save in the second half but the substitute Robin Quaison made it four with a header. Viktor Claesson added the fifth with another headed finish. The victors cut the gap to Austria, whom they play on Tuesday, down to four points, the same margin by which Sweden trail Belgium.
The Group I leaders, Switzerland, were twice pegged back by Vedat Muriqi goals in a 2-2 draw in Kosovo. The Mallorca forward cancelled out Remo Freuler’s first-half volley in the 65th minute in Pristina, only for an Amin Rrahmani own goal to put the Swiss back in front 14 minutes later.
The hosts were not to be denied, though, and Muriqi swept home in stoppage time to deny Switzerland all three points. Second-placed Romania could not take advantage as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Israel, with Oscar Gloukh netting a second-half leveller in Bucharest to boost the visitors’ qualification hopes.