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Osako sinks 10-man Colombia as Japan cause World Cup surprise

By Michael Place SARANSK Russia (Xinhua) -- A late Yuya Osako header gave Japan a 2-1 victory over 10-man Colombia in an entertaining World Cup Group H match here on Tuesday.

Osako broke Colombia’s resistance in the 79th minute after Juan Quintero’s free-kick cancelled out an early Shinji Kagawa penalty at Mordovia Arena.

The South Americans were forced to play almost the entire match with 10 men after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a deliberate handball in the area.

The result leaves Group H wide open given that 61st-ranked Japan were the least fancied of the four teams in the group, which also includes world No. 8 Poland and 27th-ranked Senegal.

A victory against the African team in their next match on Sunday would guarantee Akira Nishino’s side a place in the round of 16.

Meanwhile, 16th-ranked Colombia will need to defeat Poland, also on Sunday, just to keep alive their hopes of progressing to the knockout stage.

Colombia suffered a blow before Tuesday’s match when Bayern Munich midfielder James Rodriguez was left out with a leg muscle problem.

As expected, the Cafeteros’ all-time leading scorer Radamel Falcao was included in the starting eleven, having missed the 2014 World Cup with a knee injury.

Japan, who lost 4-1 to Colombia during the group stage in Brazil four years ago, included the experienced pair of Kagawa and Yuto Nagatomo in their starting lineup.

It took less than three minutes for the game to take a sharp turn in Japan’s favor. Osako streamed forward on the counterattack and forced a reflex save from David Ospina, but the ball rebounded for Kagawa, whose shot was impeded by Carlos Sanchez’s right arm.

Slovenian referee Damir Skomina pointed to the spot immediately and showed the Espanyol midfielder a straight red card.

Kagawa then sent Ospina the wrong way with his spot-kick to give the Blue Samurai a dream start.

Colombia manager Jose Pekerman introduced Boca Juniors holding midfielder Wilmar Barrios on the half-hour mark, sacrificing Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado, to give his team extra reinforcement as Japan threatened to double their lead.

But it was the South Americans who struck six minutes before the interval through River Plate playmaker Quintero. The 25-year-old cleverly fired under the Japan wall, beating a lunging Eiji Kawashima, who grasped the ball after it had already crossed the line.

Colombia defended resolutely in the second half as Japan sought to capitalize on their numerical advantage.

Rodriguez was brought on just before the hour mark, replacing Quintero, but the move did little to stop Japan’s momentum.

Ospina saved shots from Osako and Takashi Inui before Maya Yoshida flayed an attempt wide as the Blue Samurai pressed relentlessly.

Hiroki Sakai then had a shot deflected behind after some slick build-up play. Substitute Keisuke Honda whipped in the resultant corner and this time Osako made it count, timing his leap to perfection to glance in off the far post.

Colombia continued to take the game to Japan and Rodriguez had a golden chance to equalize from the edge of the six-yard box but his shot was blocked by Osako.



Falcao: Colombia’s World Cup hopes still alive

By Michael Place SARANSK Russia (Xinhua) -- This was not the script that Radamel Falcao had in mind. The striker’s long wait to play in a World Cup finally ended on Tuesday, but his hopes of a winning debut in football’s flagship tournament were all but dashed in the frantic opening minutes of Colombia’s Group H match against Japan.

The South Americans were reduced to 10 men in the third minute when Carlos Sanchez used his arm inside the penalty area to block a Shinji Kagawa shot.

Kagawa converted the resultant penalty, leaving Colombia with a gargantuan task of getting back into the match; one that was made even more difficult by the absence of playmaker James Rodriguez from the starting eleven because of muscle fatigue.

“We gave everything but it’s very difficult when you have a player sent off so early,” said Falcao, who missed the 2014 World Cup in Brazil because of a knee injury. “We did all we could and didn’t give up but Japan were strong in the second half. We have to accept the result.”

That Colombia were able to draw level via a Juan Quintero free-kick before halftime was testament to the Cafeteros’ fighting spirit. But, despite the introduction of Rodriguez on the hour mark, Colombia’s numerical disadvantage ultimately proved telling.

Yuya Osako restored the lead for Japan with a 73rd minute header and the Blue Samurai withstood a late Colombia charge to secure revenge for their 4-1 defeat in Brazil four years ago.

Falcao admitted he was overcome with emotion as he wept while Colombia’s national anthem was played before the first whistle.

“It was really emotional,” the 32-year-old Monaco striker said. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could, as if I wouldn’t have another opportunity.”

According to Falcao, Colombia are still confident of advancing to the knockout phase. To do so, the Cafeteros will likely need to win both of their remaining matches against Poland and Senegal.

“It started badly with a defeat but there are two games left and if we win both we can move forward,” said Falcao, Colombia’s all-time leading scorer with 29 goals.

“We have to strengthen as a group, it depends on us, the possibility is there,” he added.


We’ll save our celebrations, says Japan coach Nishino

SARANSK Russia (Xinhua) -- After a stunning 2-1 triumph against Colombia in the opening match of the World Cup Group H actions on Tuesday, Japan coach Akira Nishino said the team should play low key and save the celebrations for more victories.

“If it was just one game, we would organise a parade on the streets of Saransk, but we have more games to come, so we will save our celebrations,” said Nishino.

“We made enough prep work before the game and it worked well. Every player played to their best, especially in the second half. We controlled the ball better, that is why we got the second goal,” the 63-year-old added.

“The victory tastes good, but the second and third games will be ahead and they will be tough. We must be ready.”

Japan will take on Senegal on June 24 and then face Poland on June 28.


Pekerman laments Colombia’s ‘painful’ loss to Japan

SARANSK Russia (Xinhua) -- Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said Tuesday his team will continue to fight for a place in the World Cup knockout stage after a “painful” defeat to Japan in their opening Group H match here.

The South Americans were reduced to 10 men in the third minute when Carlos Sanchez was sent off for using his arm inside the penalty area to block a Shinji Kagawa shot.

Kagawa converted the resultant penalty before Juan Quintero equalized with a free kick under the wall just before halftime.

But Yuya Osako restored the lead for Japan with a 73rd minute header and the Blue Samurai withstood a late Colombia charge to secure revenge for their 4-1 defeat in Brazil four years ago.

“It’s painful for us because we came into the match with a lot of hope,” Pekerman told a news conference.

“The positive side of all this is that you could see the team managed to rise to the occasion and managed to get a draw... that’s a very good reaction,” the Argentine added. “If we can do that it shows that we have the wherewithal to move forward with the other matches and even win them. We can make up for this first defeat in the next two matches.”

Colombia started the match without Bayern Munich midfielder James Rodriguez, who is struggling to overcome a calf problem.

The 26-year-old, the leading scorer at the 2014 World Cup with six goals, was introduced in the second half and looked untroubled by the injury. Pekerman did not say whether Rodriguez would start in Colombia’s next match against Poland on Sunday.

The Cafeteros will likely need to win that match and their last Group H fixture against Senegal to progress to the knockout stage.

“Right now our pain is precisely because after that huge effort after scoring that goal... we lost because we were worn down, we were tired and even if I tried subbing on a couple of fresh players it was very hard for us to recover possession and Japan had its opportunities,” Pekerman said. “This is going to leave us with a bitter memory.”


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