Japan beat four-time World Cup champion Germany. They beat 2010 winner Spain. They advanced to the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup in consecutive tournaments for the first time ever.
It was a remarkable trip to Qatar for the Samurai Blue - a team made up entirely of players who either play in the Meiji Yasuda J.League or began their careers in the domestic competition.
The World Cup was especially outstanding for Ritsu Doan, who led the way with two now-famous goals in Doha.
Doan's introduction in the 71st minute against Germany jumpstarted the Samurai Blue’s World Cup run. He completely changed the match and, just four minutes after coming on, Doan was first to a rebound, banging it home to tie the match.
Dōan was brought off the bench again against Spain, coming on at halftime, and once again he flipped the game in the Samurai Blue's favor.
Doan tied the match at 1-1, just like he did against Germany, but this time it was a solo effort from 20 yards that did the deed. He hit an absolute rocket that Spain goalkeeper Unai Simón’s hands were not strong enough to keep out and the Samurai Blue’s hopes of advancing were alive once again.
Doan would follow that up with a cross three minutes later that found Kaoru Mitoma, whose pass set up Ao Tanaka’s match-winner that sent Japan into the Round of 16.
Before Doan was on the world stage, though, he was just a boy from Hyogo Prefecture in the Gamba Osaka academy. It was there that he grew and developed into a dangerous midfielder, capable of playing in the center or out wide, with pace and a blistering shot.
Doan made his first team debut with Gamba in the 2015 AFC Champions League and after a scintillating start to the 2017 season, Europe came calling.
A loan to Groningen in the Dutch Eredivisie turned into a permanent move, then he joined one of the giants of the league PSV Eindhoven. This past summer, he joined SC Freiburg in the German Bundesliga, making it to one of the biggest leagues in the world and immediately becoming a fixture in the team, both domestically and in the UEFA Europa League.
Doan's star turn at the World Cup was his best showing on the biggest stage yet, but, at just 24 years old, there is still so much more for him on a journey that started as a boy from Hyogo Prefecture in the Gamba Osaka academy.