Dubai: Japan began their second group game against Costa Rica at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in lightning fashion and full of confidence after beating Germany in their first match.
As soon as the match kicked off they were immediately on the attack and won a corner after a dangerous cross was cleared behind. They were out of the traps like a greyhound. This set the pace for the first 45 which they dominated.
But this was a different proposition to the Germany match where they were allowed to sit back and play on the counter. Today, they had to show the initiative what with Costa Rica clearing still smarting from their 7-0 drubbing by Spain playing five at the back. They didn’t want a repeat result and so their plan was to defend deep. They did not produce a single shot in that demoralizing defeat. It was the first time since 1966 that a team failed to take a pop at goal. They looked seriously poor against the Spaniards but knew they would have more of the ball this time and were keen to put on a very different display.
But Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu pre-empted this and made five changes to the team that shocked the Germans. He brought in Miki Yamane, Hidemasa Morita, Yuki Soma, Ayase Ueda and Ritsu Doan, who came off the bench to score the equaliser against Hansi Flick’s men. As a result the the Samurai Blues looked fresh and played with pace and energy. Everything they did was rapid, they didn’t ponder on anything. It was a fast, flashing start to their game but the best chance came seconds in the second half as Hidemasa Morita dropped his shoulder and shifted the ball onto his left foot before forcing Keylor Navas into a flying save.
The Central American side continued to sit in and frustrate Japan but had they been more adventurous and used the quality of Joel Campbell and Anthony Contreras they may have found more opportunities themselves. They were largely non-existent as an attacking force and continued to play very narrow and made sure that whenever Japan came forward, they were pushed wide and forced to fling crosses into the box. And with their height advantage, Los Ticos were able to clear their lines with Kendall Waston particularly impressive at the back.
Japan kept pressing and penetrating and looked likely to break the deadlock with every charge forward, such was their intensity. Kaoru Mitoma, was the driving force. The aggressive winger, who plays for English Premier League club Brighton, didn’t allow the Costa Rica defenders any time on the ball.
But then, totally against run of play, Costa Rica – who looked to be heading home disappointed that they never gave this world Cup a real go – took the lead when their first shot on target of the tournament brought them their first goal. Keysher Fuller beat Shuichi Gonda from the edge of the box but in truth the keeper should have done better. He got a hand to the shot but was flat-footed and couldn’t keep it out.
They held on for the win and the Costa Ricans celebrated wildly but just as happy were Germany because it now opens the door for them. They can still go through even if they lose to Spain tonight. As for Japan, they will feel hugely disappointed. This was a glorious chance for them to book their spot in the last 16 but they now have to face Spain in their final Group E match and getting even a point could prove very tough.