Ten-man Colombia falter against clinical Japan

Before this game, no Asian team had taken the scalp of a South American one in the World Cup. The clash between a powerful looking Colombian side, albeit without injured star James Rodríguez, and a Japanese side coming off a tumultuous, coach-killing build-up to the tournament, seemed unlikely to change that. In the World Cup, however, nothing is impossible, and Akira Nishino’s men proved it with a clinical second half performance which upset a Colombian side reduced to 10 men and set the cat amongst the pigeons in a volatile Group H mix.

The game got off to a bizarre false start, with the referee mistakenly lining the teams up in the wrong halves. After both teams underwent the slightly farcical process of switching sides before kick-off, things couldn’t have commenced any worse for the Colombians. Dávinson Sánchez was turned by Yūya Ōsako and found himself one-on-one with David Ospina, who made the save but couldn’t stop Shinji Kagawa from collecting the rebound and streaming towards a now exposed goal. Carlos Sánchez played goalkeeper and blocked a certain goal with his arm, and he received his marching orders before Kagawa drilled it home from the spot. After just over five minutes, Colombia found themselves one goal down, without their star player and with their second-most experienced player having just received the second-fastest red card in World Cup history. It wasn’t an ideal situation.

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Carlos Sánchez (on ground) is shown the red card by referee Damir Skomina (in red). Sánchez’s send-off was the second-fastest in World Cup history, and it derailed Colombia’s plans.

It couldn’t really get any worse, and the Colombians responded to the shock perfectly. They nearly recouped the deficit just five minutes later, with Radamel Falcao latching onto a free-kick but failing to divert it past Eiji Kawashima. Unfortunately for them, Falcao’s near miss didn’t mark the beginning of any sustained attack on the Japanese goal. Instead, what followed was a fairly dull period of play, with very little goalmouth action for either team but Colombia adjusting well to the loss of their key defensive midfielder.

Then, after building a little bit of pressure with a few dangerous attacks, the Colombians levelled. Falcao won a questionable free-kick on the edge of the box, and Juan Fernando Quintero decided to attempt a shot under the wall. It worked. The four men in the Japanese wall jumped as high as they could in an attempt to block the kick, and the ball rolled straight underneath their feet. Kawashima just didn’t seem to be ready for the unexpected move, and the ball had crossed the line before he managed to reach it. With the score at 1-1 going into the break, things weren’t tracking well for a Japanese side who had completely failed to press home their numerical advantage.

Then, after starting the second half with more a more aggressive approach, Japan began to turn things around. Ōsako got involved, turning Dávinson just as easily as he had in the opening minutes and forcing Ospina into another tough save. The Colombian keeper needed to pull off an even better stop a few minutes later when Ōsako found Takashi Inui in space and the left winger curled in a beautiful shot from just inside the box. Maya Yoshida’s slightly off target header and Hiroki Sakai’s poorly-directed shot added to Japan’s list of second half chances, and the Colombians found themselves under a bit of pressure. Then they went behind once more.

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Yūya Ōsako celebrates after scoring the goal which sealed Japan’s upset win over Colombia. Ōsako had a huge impact up front, playing a hand in both goals and creating plenty of other chances.

It was Ōsako who scored the goal, but Keisuke Honda who made the difference. Introduced for Kagawa, he added a new energy to Japan’s attacking play, and they had a great chance almost immediately after he entered. A quick piece of build-up play allowed the powerful Ōsako to hold the ball up inside the box, with Dávinson’s desperate block from underneath the Japanese striker the only thing preventing Sakai from scoring. No such intervention could save them from Honda’s resultant corner, which picked out Ōsako with pinpoint accuracy and was headed unstoppably into the post and into the back of the net.

Colombia reacted with plenty of aggression. James, brought on despite his injury, found himself in a great position, but Ōsako’s desperate block prevented Colombia’s star man from finding the back of the net. Another block, from Genki Haraguchi, stopped a potentially dangerous corner from developing into something more worrisome. Almost immediately afterwards, Johan Mojica’s dangerous cross fizzled out, falling into the lap of a grateful Kawashima. Colombia looked ready to fight for the leveller, and Japan looked in for a protracted period of desperate defending. They weren’t. Down a man from the word go, Colombia seemed spent as Japan found plenty of free passes and monopolised possession. They were desperate, but desperation wasn’t enough as their tired team limped over the finish line. For Japan, the result is an unexpected boost to their seemingly slim hopes of progression. For Colombia, it could prove to be a fatal blow to their chances of going further into this tournament.

Saransk – Mordovia Arena
Colombia 1 (Quintero 39)
Japan 2 (Kagawa 6 pen, Ōsako 73)
Referee: Damir Skomina (Svn)
Colombia (4-2-3-1): Ospina – Arias, D Sánchez, Murillo, Mojica; C Sánchez, Lerma; Cuadrado (Barrios 31), Quintero (Rodríguez 59), Izquierdo (Bacca 70); Falcao.
Sent-off: C Sánchez 3.
Japan (4-2-3-1): Kawashima – H Sakai, Yoshida, Shōji, Nagatomo; Hasebe, Shibasaki (Yamaguchi 80); Haraguchi, Kagawa (Honda 70), Inui; Ōsako (Okazaki 85).

Top 5
1. Yūya Ōsako (Japan)
Ōsako was a force to be reckoned with in the Japanese attack, continually upstaging Sánchez and playing a massive hand in Japan’s upset victory. His strength on the ball allowed him to retain possession in attack, and his distribution was excellent. The winning goal was a fitting reward for his efforts.
2. José Fernando Quintero (Colombia)
Quintero was brought in to replace the injured James, and although he was subbed off relatively early in the match, he left a big mark. His set piece delivery was brilliant, and he capped off Colombia’s first half recovery with a canny free-kick goal. He could definitely spring a surprise or two.
3. Gaku Shibasaki (Japan)
Shibasaki was all action in the centre of the park, shuffling forward with seemingly boundless energy and getting better as the match progressed. His second half display was particularly significant, and his control of the ball in the attacking third allowed Japan’s play to flourish.
4. Hiroki Sakai (Japan)
Sakai worked very hard on the right flank all day, and was another player whose influence grew as the match progressed. He had a few chances as he started to find space on the overlap, and against tired Colombian opponents he became a potent attacking force for the Japanese.
5. Keisuke Honda (Japan)
Japan were in control of the game when Honda replaced Kagawa in the 70th minute, but the introduction of the veteran attacking midfielder was the change they needed to turn that into a winning goal. His cross to assist Ōsako’s goal was perfect, and the impact he had on the team suggests he may get a chance to start the next match.

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