Japan got their 2018 FIFA World Cup Group H campaign up and running on Tuesday with a 2-1 win over ten-man Colombia at the Mordovia Arena.
Shinji Kagawa got the Samurai Blue off to a dream start when he converted a penalty after six minutes, but a Juan Quintero freekick saw Colombia pull level six minutes before the break.
But, with 17 minutes remaining, Yuya Osako climbed highest to head home a corner and hand the Japanese an all-important opening victory.
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Having picked up just one point in their previous World Cup appearance four years ago, Japan entered Tuesday’s game looking to give a better account of themselves.
Just three minutes in, they were handed a huge advantage with their first foray forward.
An intelligent flick forward by Kagawa saw Osako force his way past Davinson Sanchez and race through on goal.
Osako’s initial effort was smartly saved by David Ospina but Kagawa’s goal-bound effort on the follow-up was then blocked by Carlos Sanchez with his arm.
The referee had no hesitation in showing a straight red to the Colombia midfielder and, from the resultant penalty, Kagawa kept his goal in stroking a shot straight down the middle.
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With the numerical advantage, Japan did create chances to extend their lead but Takashi Inui and Osako both wasted opportunities from good positions.
As the half wore on, Los Cafeteros began to grow in confidence and, in the 39th minute, they duly levelled the scores when Quintero cleverly fired a freekick under the Japan wall and Eiji Kawashima was unable to scramble across in time to keep it over the line.
The Colombian equaliser served to wake the Samurai Blue out of their slumber, and they did gain a stranglehold on the contest after halftime.
Quintero’s very cheeky free kick vs Japan. Very clever! pic.twitter.com/JnvPK2aCaX
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Ospina did well to keep out a curling effort from Inui at full stretch three minutes before the hour mark, while Hiroki Sakai had a low shot desperately blocked in the 73rd minute after good hold-up play from Osako.
Nonetheless, from the resultant corner, Japan finally found the breakthrough as Honda’s dangerous delivery found Osako, who showed the greatest hunger in a sea of opposition defenders to send a deft header past Ospina and win it for his team.
Japan are next in action on Sunday when they take on Senegal in Yekaterinburg, where a win would almost effectively secure their place in the Round of 16.
COLOMBIA: David Ospina, Santiago Arias, Davinson Sanchez, Oscar Murillo, Johan Mojica, Carlos Sanchez, Jefferson Lerma, Juan Cuadrado (Wilmar Barrios 31’), Juan Quintero (James Rodriguez 59’), Jose Izquierdo (Carlos Bacca 70’), Radamel Falcao.
JAPAN: Eiji Kawashima, Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Gen Shoji, Yuto Nagatomo, Gaku Shibasaki (Hotaru Yamaguchi 80’), Makoto Hasebe, Genki Haraguchi, Shinji Kagawa (Keisuke Honda 70’), Takashi Inui, Yuya Osako (Shinji Okazaki 85’).