Spain coach Luis Enrique paid tribute to his late daughter in a heartbreaking message at the World Cup, on the same day his side drew 1-1 with Germany to edge closer to the knockout stages in Qatar. A late goal by substitute Niclas Fuellkrug allowed Germany to snatch a point against Spain, who had taken a second half lead through substitute Alvaro Morata.
Enrique called it a "special day" but not because his side were facing tournament heavyweights Germany, or for any reasons relating to football. Instead, the Spain coach was referring to what would have been the 13th birthday for his late daughter Xana Martínez, who died from a rare form of bone cancer in 2019.
'VERY OBVIOUS': China accused of shock act during Socceroos game
'SAD TO SEE': Staggering World Cup upset sparks 'disgusting' scenes
“It was a special day for me and my family," Luis Enrique said. “Obviously we don’t have our daughter with us physically anymore, but she is still present every day. We remember her a lot, we laugh and think about how she would act in each situation that we experience.”
The Spain coach also posted a video on Instagram before the match, in which he added: "Today is a special day. Not only because we play Germany, but also because my daughter Xana would be turning 13 years old. My love, wherever you are, we love you."
The 52-year-old former Barcelona player and coach - participating in his first World Cup as Spain’s coach - left the national team after finding out about his daughter’s cancer, only return to the job in 2019 after his daughter's tragic death.
“This is how life works,” he said after the match. “It’s not only about beautiful things and finding happiness, it's about knowing how to manage these moments.”
Enrique's Spanish side will advance to the knockout stage in Qatar if they manage to avoid defeat in their final Group E match against Japan on Friday morning (AEDT). Spain currently top the group after a draw and a 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica, who bounced back from that drubbing to shock Japan in one of the day's other games.
Keysher Fuller's 81st-minute goal for Costa Rica at Doha's Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium eased some of the pressure on the Germans as it prevented Japan from taking a giant stride towards the last 16. Hansi Flick's German side nevertheless desperately needed something from their meeting with 2010 winners Spain at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, after losing 2-1 to Japan in their Group E opener.
Yet they were in big trouble when Morata turned in Jordi Alba's cross to put Spain ahead just after the hour mark. Germany, who had an Antonio Ruediger goal disallowed for offside in the first half, had Fuellkrug to thank for coming off the bench to rescue a draw, with the Werder Bremen striker's 83rd-minute goal coming in just his third international appearance.
"We still have room for improvement, but we can hope that everything turns out well in the final game," Fuellkrug told German broadcaster ZDF after the game.
Germany's fate not entirely in their own hands
Germany are still bottom of Group E on a single point, with Japan and Costa Rica on three each while Spain sit top with four. To avoid a second consecutive group-stage exit, Germany must win their final group match against Costa Rica and hope that Spain avoids defeat to Japan.
Spain will definitely qualify with a point against Japan, who now must win that game to give themselves the best possible chance of progressing to the next round.
"Of course Spain will be tough but there is a good chance for us to win," said Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu. "We will be well prepared and will go into the match with confidence."
Elsewhere, 2018 runners-up Croatia ended Canada's hopes of progressing after a crushing come-from-behind 4-1 win. Croatia went behind when Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies scored for Canada after just two minutes but the Europeans roared back to life with Andrej Kramaric's brace, and goals from Marko Livaja and Lovro Majer completing the rout.
Croatia now need just a draw to reach the last 16 when they meet Belgium in their final group game on Thursday, but the Belgians must win to be sure of going through after slumping to a shock 2-0 defeat at the hands of Morocco.
A victory for Belgium would have sent them through but Romain Saiss and Zakaria Aboukhlal's late goals instead secured Morocco a first World Cup win in 24 years.
Belgium, who finished third in 2018, lacked spark and were made to pay by inspired opposition.
"We're not playing with joy. It's maybe the weight on our shoulders," Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said. "In the last game we have to play to win it and as if we have nothing to lose."
Belgium's loss led to rioting in Brussels where police used water cannon and teargas after coming under attack from football supporters. Dozens of fans smashed shop windows, threw fireworks and torched vehicles.
The Moroccans, meanwhile, will be confident of taking a point from Canada which would send them through. John Herdman's Canadian side can no longer progress and the nation have lost all five matches at the World Cup finals after failing to collect a point on their previous appearance in 1986.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.