Why Japan hero Ao Tanaka has already forgotten his dramatic winner vs. Spain that sealed FIFA World Cup knockout round berth

Despite helping Japan claim a memorable 2-1 win over Spain only on Thursday, Ao Tanaka insists his and his teammates' thoughts have already shifted to their upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup round-of-16 tie with Croatia. Clive Mason/Getty Images

DOHA, Qatar -- Ao Tanaka can be assured of his place in Japanese football folklore.

That much was certain from the moment the midfielder bundled the ball over the line at Khalifa International Stadium on Thursday, which proved to be the decider for Japan in a stunning come-from-behind 2-1 win over Spain that sealed their place in the round of 16 at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Wild scenes of celebration ensued, both in the immediate aftermath of the goal and then again after a Video Assistant Referee check confirmed it would stand, as well as at the final whistle when the Samurai Blue's progress to the knockout round for a second consecutive World Cup was confirmed -- where they will now meet Croatia on Monday evening at Al Janoub Stadium.

The passion overflowed into the stands with some fans delirious in delight, while others were simply rooted to the ground sobbing away -- either in relief or disbelief.

All around, iconic images that should live long in the memory. So why has it already faded away for the man who scored the goal that made all of this happen?

"All of us (in the team) have forgotten everything (about that win)," said a focused Tanaka, when asked by ESPN after Japan's training session on Saturday if he was still reliving that moment two days on.

"Of course, we were so happy to win that last game, as well as the one against Germany (in their Group E opener), but we don't care about that anymore.

"Japan has never before reach the quarterfinals (of the World Cup) so the next game is the most important for us. We need to prepare and focus on the next game."

Despite his pivotal contribution in Japan's previous outing, Tanaka is no guarantee to start against Croatia given coach Hajime Moriyasu has already shown his willingness to change his not only personnel but his formation as well.

Tanaka did however feature from the start in both games against Germany and Spain while sitting out the shock 1-0 loss against Costa Rica, suggesting that he may be not just be part of the strongest XI Moriyasu has in his mind but also a lucky charm when he is in the starting lineup.

"We do have good players in every position," Tanaka added.

"Of course, I would like to start every game but we don't know who the coach will decide to play in the next game.

"If it is me, you can be sure I'll do my best on the pitch."