Hoping to register back-to-back victories at a World Cup tournament for the first time since 2002, Japan did not let the soaring temperatures in Al Rayyan affect their opening attacking endeavours against Costa Rica today.
However, after mustering an improbable comeback victory over Germany in their last outing, they struggled to produce a repeat performance of their historic triumph.
On the back of their disappointing and deflating opening day defeat to Spain, Costa Rica began the game looking to avoid such embarrassments again.
It was an opening period that saw both sides cancel each other out. They struggled to get going as English referee Michael Oliver was the busiest man on the pitch throughout a goal-shy opening 45 minutes marred by a succession of fouls.
Still gunning for the victory that would have ensured the Samurai Blue a place in the round of 16, Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu rolled the dice at the start of the second half by making two substitutions.
The tactical switch immediately looked to tilt proceedings in favour of the Asians, and Luis Fernando Suarez’s men were left indebted to Keylor Navas, who made a pivotal save to deny Hidemasa Morita early in the second period.
For much of the contest, it seemed a stalemate was the only possible result as both teams cancelled each other out.
But Keysher Fuller blew Group E wide open in the 81st minute as the defender’s strike somehow found a way past an outstretched Shuichi Gonda.
The goal was enough to keep Costa Rica’s aspirations of making their first appearance in the knockout stage of a World Cup since 2014 alive.
They have now moved level on points with today’s opposition, and they will need at least a point against four-time World Cup winners Germany in their final Group E encounter to qualify.
Meanwhile, a disappointing defeat for Japan leaves Moriyasu’s side needing a positive result against Spain in their final group game to stand any chance of securing their first-ever consecutive appearances in the knockout phase.
Shuichi Gonda (4/10) – Should have done much better for the goal and looked uncomfortable at times.
Miki Yamane (5/10) – Looked well off pace and was rightly substituted.
Kou Itakura (5/10) – Tidy, but unspectacular.
Maya Yoshida (7/10) – Had a solid game but was never really troubled. Led his side well.
Yuto Nagatomo (5/10) – Solid defensively but offered nothing going forwards. Substituted at the interval.
Hidemasa Morita (6/10) – Was somewhat effective in progressing the ball from midfield and came close to putting his side ahead early in the second half with a ferocious strike.
Wataru Endo (4/10) – Was ineffective and sometimes wasteful in possession.
Ritsu Doan (5/10) – Was energetic but did not offer much more in the game.
Daichi Kamada (4/10) – A poor performance by his standards.
Yuki Soma (4/10) – Was a passenger for much of the game.
Ayase Ueda (4/10) – Struggled to gain a foothold in the game and was withdrawn at half-time. Japan looked better after his substitution.
Takuma Asano (5/10)
Hiroki Ito (5/10)
Kaoru Mitoma (6/10)
Junior Ito (5/10)
Takumi Minamino (N/A)
Keylor Navas (7/10) – Was largely untested but came up clutch when called into action.
Keysher Fuller (8/10) *MOTM* – Dealt with Japan’s threat well and snatched a winner for his side.
Oscar Duarte (7/10) – Kept his concentration and made sure Japan had no joy down the middle.
Kendall Waston (5/10) – Less assured than his defensive partners, but still had a solid game.
Francisco Calvo (6/10) – Had a decent game but will now be suspended for the Germany match after picking up a booking.
Bryan Oviedo (6/10) – Defended well but offered next to nothing in attack.
Gerson Torres (4/10) – The game passed him by.
Celso Borges (7/10) – One of Costa Rica’s standout performers. Held the fort in the middle of the park.
Yeltsin Tejeda (5/10) – Clumsy in possession but made up for it by teeing up Fuller.
Joel Campbell (7/10) – The closest thing to an attacking threat that Costa Rica had to offer. Constantly tried to whip up something on the left flank.
Anthony Contreras (5/10) – Had no service and no chances to latch on to.
Brandon Aguilera (5/10)
Jewison Bennette (5/10)
Youstin Salas (N/A)
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