Japan shocked Colombia with a 2-1 victory in an exciting match to kick off Group H.
Pre-match expectations were high as the two teams locked horns in a rematch of the group stage match from 2014, where Colombia won 4-1. Both teams were significantly different from 2014, with both countries fielding younger and exciting players. Colombia lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Quintero playing behind Falcao and young Izquierdo getting his 8th cap. James Rodriguez was on the bench after suffering from a sore calf muscle. On the other hand, Japan lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Osaka leading the line and Kagawa in behind. Okazaki and Honda were surprisingly left on the bench, with youth being preferred.
The game started off with a bang. Osaka was put through on goal but Ospina made a decent save. The ball rebounded to Kagawa whp took a first time shot that was heading into the top corner. Carlos Sanchez jumped to stop the shot but the ball hit his outstretched hand. The referee pointed to the spot and showed Sanchez a red card in the 4th minute. On first look it seemed harsh, but replays showed that the referee got the decision spot on. It was the second fastest red card in the history of the World Cup, and Kagawa then stepped up to slot home the penalty to add further insult to injury.
Izquierdo dropped into a deeper position in midfield as Colombia looked to regroup after the rocky start. Colombia responded well to going a goal and man behind, with Cuadrado and Izquierdo attacking down the flanks. Falcao had Colombia’s first big chance of the match when Quintero lobbed a pass over the Japanese defense but Falcao poked it straight at the keeper. Colombia were looking good going forward but were unable to convert their flair and attacking prowess into any chances. Japan were happy to sit back and hit Colombia on the counter and Kagawa should have doubled the lead in the 14th minute when his mazy run ended with a dragged shot.
Cuadrado was at the root of all good things Colombia were doing, which made his 30th minute substitution extremely shocking. Wilmar Barrios, a defensive midfielder came on in a tactical move to strengthen Colombia’s midfield.Colombian fans were left confused, but Falcao continued to harass and pressure the Japanese defense. In the 33rd minute he broke the offside trap and made an athletic leap to reach a cross. But once again he poked it straight into the keeper’s hands.
Falcao was becoming a nuisance for the defense, continuously drawing fouls and chasing down players. In the 40th minute Falcao went down under challenge from Yoshida and the referee awarded him a free-kick. Quintero stepped up with a cheeky bit of skill! He waited for the wall to jump and threaded it into the corner of the goal. The Japan keeper desperately tried to claw it out, but the ball had already crossed the line before he pushed it back out.
The first half ended all square and it was a score line that both teams deserved. The second half was delicately poised, and Japan started the half well, pinging the ball around and creating a few half chances. Kagawa and Osaka looked to be on the same page and were getting more dangerous as time went on.
The pair combined for a snap shot that Ospina saved in the 53rd minute. James Rodrigues was introduced in the 58th minute in an attempt to reignite Colombia’s attack, but he was unable to do so. Japan were all over Colombia and the South American team were hanging on by a thread. In the 73rd minute Japan and Osaka were rewarded for the effort. Honda whipped in a good corner and Osaka flicked home a good header to put Japan ahead. James then had a chance to equalize in the 75th minute but Osaka threw his body in the way.
Osaka was then taken off to a standing ovation for his Man of The Match performance, and the game became disjointed as Japan saw home the victory. Japan got their revenge for the heavy defeat four years ago in Brazil, as they showed true fighting spirit during the game. The tactics of Hishino worked almost perfectly, albeit aided by the early red card. On the other hand, Colombia will be disappointed with the loss as a Sanchez’s red card never let them gain a foothold in the match. The Colombians still reacted well but their attack never troubled Japan and Falcao seemed to fall away as the match progressed. Colombia now need to win their next two games to guarantee qualification, and match their performance from four years ago.
Japan make history – the stats (Via BBC)
- Japan became the first Asian side to beat South American opposition at the World Cup (P18 W1 D3 L14).
- This is the first World Cup since 1974 in which four South American teams have failed to win their opening game
- None of Colombia’s 19 games at the World Cup has ended goalless. The only nations that have played more games in the competition without recording a 0-0 are USA (33) and Austria (29).
- Keisuke Honda is the first player from an Asian nation to provide an assist in three different World Cups since 1966.
- Eiji Kawashima (35 years, 91 days) became the oldest player to appear for Japan in a World Cup match.
Featured Image: Gaurdian
Quintero Freekick: RTE
Japan Team Image: Guardian
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