Japan have completed one of the upsets of the tournament so far after beating 10-man Colombia at the Mordovia Arena. Akira Nishino’s side went into their opening fixture believing they’d be up against it, facing a Colombian side that had claimed all nine points in the 2014 Group Stages.
An early red card shown to Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez for a deliberate handball set the tone, though the Japanese failed to make their early advantage count despite Shinji Kagawa rolling in the ensuing spot-kick.
A cleverly executed free-kick from Juan Quintero – who was deputising for a James Rodriguez facing minor fitness issues – brought the Colombians level shortly before the break.
Japan began the second period inspired and rejuvenated with Nishino’s words ringing in their ears, and made their numerical advantage count, moving the ball around nicely and forcing their opponents to do more of the running.
The added pressure finally told 20 minutes from time when Yuya Osako rose highest to nod home from a Keisuke Honda corner. The Japanese held on to record the first win for any Asian side over South American opposition at a World Cup.
1 Drama-filled first half
The first red card of the 2018 World Cup was shown to Colombia's Carlos Sanchez after namesake Davinson failed to clear his lines.
The Tottenham Hotspur youngster didn't deal with a simple through ball which allowed Osaka to charge down on goal, with the ball eventually falling to Kagawa, whose goal bound shot was stopped cynically by the outstretched arm of Sanchez.
Having been reduced to ten men so early on, Colombia were rocked - made worse when Kagawa rolled in the resulting penalty - and had to adjust quickly to avoid going two goals down.
KEY STAT: Carlos Sanchez's red card was the second-fastest in World Cup history.
The Japanese, though, failed to take the initiative and seize control of the game, eventually allowing Colombia time to settle and gain a foothold.
Industrious play from Radamel Falcao annoyed and irritated the Japanese backline and was awarded a controversial free-kick on the edge of the box after hitting the turf frequently beforehand.
Stand-in winger Quintero stepped up and cleverly rolled the ball under the jumping wall and into the bottom-left corner, with goal-line technology confirming the goal.
2 Surprise exclusions
The release of the team sheets before kick-off raised a few eyebrows on both sides. Colombia's main man James Rodriguez was left on the bench as manager Jose Pekerman opted to allow the Bayern Munich loanee more time to overcome a minor calf problem.
Instead, River Plate's Juan Quintero was started in the number 10 hole in behind front man Radamel Falcao, which afforded the opportunity for Brighton and Hove Albion's Jose Izquierdo to fill the vacant wider role.
Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado started on the other side, though was substituted on the half-hour mark in the reshuffle forced by the early red card.
Leicester City's Shinji Okazaki was forced to watch this one from the bench for the Japanese, as Akira Nishino deployed Koln forward Yuya Osako in the number nine role.
3 Colombian resilience in response
Going down to ten men at any point ruins any gameplan, but when it's in the third minute of a World Cup, the script is well and truly ripped up.
Understandably, Colombia were rocked in the minutes after the dismissal of Sanchez, though Japan's failure to take the initiative and press on allowed them a route back into the game.
It didn't take long for Pekerman's side to adapt to the sudden change, though, and by the ten-minute mark, a viewer unknowing of the red card incident could be forgiven for thinking it was still 11 v 11, such was the impressiveness of the almost instantaneous fightback.
Colombia's quick adjustment - Wilmar Barrios was brought on for Juan Cuadrado - and higher press caught the Japanese unaware, as simple passes and inter-play went missing all too frequently.
After the break, though, the South American side went missing and barely got out of their own half before deservedly falling behind to an Osako header.
4 Nishino's half-time words
Japan were unacceptably flat after the Sanchez dismissal, looking confused and unsure about to take the opportunity that had been given to them.
Passes were going astray and suddenly Japan were looking nervous irrespective of their man advantage. Colombian pressure eventually told, despite coming from a contentious decision, and Nishino would have been desperately unhappy with his side.
The Blue Samurai came out a different side in the second half, not allowing the Colombians the opportunity to get onto the ball, keeping hold of possession and forcing their opponents to do all the running.
Fatigue and tiredness showed as the half went on, and Osako out jumped four surrounding defenders to head home and give his side the lead.
The differences between the performances in each half were extreme. Japan were, and needed to be, much more composed in the second period. Nishino will deserve credit for the change in his sides' approach and output, and the win gives Japan a great opportunity to progress.
5 What now in Group H?
Before proceedings got underway in Group H, Colombia would have been at the top of the group on many a wallchart.
This result damages their chances of progressing, though doesn't rule it out entirely. The early red card killed all the pre-game optimism from a Colombian point of view, but winning the next two matches is now imperative.
Group G is arguably one of the closest, at least on paper. Poland and Senegal complete the make-up, and both are sides that can be difficult to beat. For Colombia, an opening round defeat would have been highest on the 'avoid' list.
With Poland and Senegal getting their campaigns underway this afternoon, the shape of the group may look entirely different, though Colombians will pray for a stalemate.
Japan can now bask in the feeling of victory, especially as they become the first Asian side to defeat a South American outfit at a World Cup. Another victory will see them qualify to the next round though the prospect of going through with two draws looks viable.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 6 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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