Yuya Osako’s header from close range on a corner by Keisuke Honda in the 73rd minute gave Japan a surprising 2-1 victory over 10-man and Group H favorite Colombia as the two sides opened play at the World Cup on Tuesday in Saransk.
The Samurai Blue played almost the entire match with a man advantage after Carlos Sanchez was sent off in the third minute for a deliberate handball in the penalty area on a shot by Shinji Kagawa. The play started with Colombia defender Davinson Sanchez failed to close down Osako as the two challenged for the ball.
Osako was able to fire off a shot David Ospina did well to save, but the rebound went right to Kagawa, whose shot likely would have found the back of the net had Carlos Sanchez not stuck out his right arm. Referee Damir Skomina showed no hesitation in flashing a red card, and Kagawa converted the ensuing penalty by going right down the middle as Ospina guessed incorrectly and was leaning right.
It was the second-fastest red card in World Cup history, behind only Uruguay’s Jose Alberto Batista against Scotland in 1986 per Opta statistics.
Los Cafeteros, though, pulled level through Juan Quintero in the 39th minute. After Radamel Falcao drew a foul on Makato Hasebe for a free kick, Quintero cheekily went under the wall from 20 yards on the right, and Japan keeper Elji Kawashima was too slow to react as he did not get his gloves on the ball until after it crossed the line just inside the right post.
Japan came out reinvigorated after the break and looked to make full use of its manpower advantage. Osako ripped a shot from 10 yards on the left that Ospina parried for a corner in the 54th minute, and Takasha Inui forced the Colombian keeper into a full stretch three minutes later to deny a shot angling for the right corner.
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman made the surprising move of introducting James Rodriguez, who was held out of the starting XI with a calf injury, on the hour. Japan, though, began to monopolize possession as it tried to hunt out a go-ahead goal. Honda entered the match for Kagawa in the 70th minute and immediately tested Ospina with a low shot.
Osaka set up a chance in the penalty area for defender Hiroki Sakai, whose shot for the left corner was deflected for a Japan corner kick. That’s when Honda went to the work, putting in a ball from the left that Osako rose highest for while surrounded by four Colombian defenders in the six-yard box and beat Ospina, who got caught in no man’s land and was out of position when he stepped forward, inside the right post.
The Cafteros then pressed for a late equalizer, with Rodriguez running onto a backheel from Lerma into the penalty area, but his shot from a sharp angle on the right was deflected over the bar by Osako in the 78th minute. That was the last quality opportunity Colombia would get in the match, with Rodriguez getting a yellow card late for a petulant foul.
Japan’s victory was the first by an Asian team at the World Cup in 18 matches against South American sides after six draws and 11 losses entering the contest. It was also the Samurai Blue’s first win at the World Cup since closing group play in South Africa in 2010 with a 3-1 victory over Denmark.
Japan is tied atop Group H with Senegal, which completed a chaotic opening set of matches with a 2-1 victory over Poland. The co-leaders will meet Sunday in Ekaterinburg, while Colombia and Poland will try to climb back into contention later that day in Kazan.