Ritsu Doan seizes chance in battle against German goliaths

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Japan players surround Ritsu Doan, center, after the midfielder scored an equalizer in World Cup Group E action against Germany in Doha on Wednesday.

DOHA — When opportunity knocks, it’s best to answer. And answer is precisely what midfielder Ritsu Doan did when he knocked in the crucial equalizer minutes after coming off the bench in Japan’s 2-1 victory against the German Giants in Qatar on Wednesday.

The Samurai Blue went a goal behind after conceding a penalty kick in the first half. After the break, Doan, who plays in Germany’s Bundesliga, came on to replace Ao Tanaka.

Minutes later, fellow substitute Takumi Minamino whipped a cross into the box that was intercepted by German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. But Neuer only managed to knock the ball into the path of the waiting Doan, who blasted the loose ball into the net from close range in the 75th minute.

“I had a strong belief that I could be the one to do it,” Doan said after the match.

At the Tokyo Olympics last year, Doan helped Japan advance to the semifinals wearing the No. 10 shirt, but he only featured as a substitute in the final stage of Asian qualifying for the 2022 Word Cup.

The tide turned for Doan this season when he joined Bundesliga club Freiburg, where he has built up confidence playing regularly for a team that is battling for the top spot in Germany’s first division.

Even though the midfielder has continued to be left out of the Samurai Blue starting lineup, he has waited patiently for his chance.

“Now, I don’t let myself get frustrated by thinking that I should’ve been used for a match. I’m confident that when I’m used, I’ll play well. So I feel very relaxed”, the 24-year-old Doan said, showing signs of how much he has matured since the move.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu praised the Freiburg player, saying he is now able “to stand on his own feet.”

Doan joined the Dutch club PSV Eindhoven when he was 19 but was unable to establish a regular place on the team and ended up being loaned out to a club in Germany.

“I really like adversity,” Doan said, suggesting the diversion did not disappoint him. “My battle starts from the point when people think I’m down and out,” he said. “But, I might be the type of person who’s good at recovering from the bottom.”

After the match against Germany, Moriyasu said, “I guess the result was a surprise considering [Japan’s standing in] the world, but you never know until you play the match … I believed that we had a chance if we continued to play in unity and fight tenaciously until the end.”

Japan captain Maya Yoshida, 34, said: “I’m extremely happy. Yesterday, Saudi Arabia achieved an upset victory [over Argentina] by coming from 1-0 behind. So we played, believing we could do it, too.”

“It’s a historic moment,” yelled veteran defender Yuto Nagatomo, 36, who played in his 12th World Cup match Wednesday, a record for a Japanese player.