Japan profited from Colombia’s nightmare start to the World Cup as they secured a victory against 10 men in their Group H opener in Saransk, despite James Rodriguez’s late introduction.
Colombia conceded a penalty and had a man sent off inside three minutes, with Carlos Sanchez dismissed for handling Shinji Kagawa’s shot at a goal left exposed by terrible defending.
After the first red card shown at this World Cup – and the second fastest in history at two minutes 56 seconds – Kagawa scored the spot-kick.
Japan should have increased their lead soon after as Takashi Inui and Yuya Osako wasted fine openings.
They were punished when Juan Quintero’s clever free-kick, fired low under the jumping wall, brought Jose Pekerman’s Colombia on level terms six minutes before the break.
Colombia had never come back to win a World Cup match in which they had conceded the opening goal – across 10 games – and star player Rodriguez was brought on in the second half, not having been deemed fit enough to start.
However, it was Japan who regained the lead, Osako finishing with a header from Keisuke Honda’s corner.
Rodriguez had been struggling to leave a mark on the game, with Japan at last making their extra man count and dominating possession as might be expected, but there would be one big chance late on.
Freed into space after a clever backheel, Rodriguez’s blistering strike from inside the box was deflected over the bar by a brave lunge from Osako.
This was the first time Japan had won a World Cup game on European soil, and the first time they had beaten a side from South America at the tournament.
For Colombia, who reached the quarter-finals in 2014, this was a miserable defeat that leaves them with two very important games against Poland and Senegal to come.
Dream start for Japan
You might have been forgiven if you had given Japan no chance before this match.
Not only did their history of results at European World Cups and against South American teams go against them, but their build-up was also disrupted by an alarm that went off in the early hours of Monday morning at the team hotel.
Many of the tens of thousands of Colombia fans in Saransk were certainly in confident mood. Maybe too confident.
But on the pitch Japan could not have dreamed of a better start. Davinson Sanchez was caught out by a ball over the top, Osako’s shot was saved by Ospina’s legs and Kagawa’s follow-up was clearly stopped by the hand of former Aston Villa midfielder Carlos Sanchez.
Kagawa coolly slotted home another first – Japan’s first goal from the penalty spot at a World Cup.
There were still sloppy moments and some wasteful finishing – they managed to hit the target five times from 14 attempts – but Akira Nishino’s side did enough to secure a potentially significant victory.
There were questions over the sacking of manager Vahid Halilhodzic in April, despite the Bosnian having lost only twice during qualifying, but Nishino and his players now have something to build on.
Colombia defeat could be crucial
At least Carlos Sanchez, now of Espanyol, will not take first place in the history books. The dubious honour for the quickest red card at the World Cup remains with Uruguay’s Jose Alberto Batista, who was sent off against Scotland in 1986 after 54 seconds.
Nonetheless, this could be a crucial defeat for Colombia in a tight group.
The red card was the biggest factor, but so was the absence of Rodriguez from the starting line-up, plus Radamel Falcao’s slightly tentative finishing from two half-chances from balls played over the top.
That Colombia were able to drag themselves back into the game relied on neither of their two big stars. Instead it was Quintero who continued his international renaissance with a lovely goal.
He received his first cap in three years in March, having lost his way at club level since the 2014 World Cup, when Colombia reached the quarter-finals for the first time.
Quintero became the first Colombian to score at two World Cups, and his strike was the fourth goal direct from a set-piece, surpassing the three scored at the previous World Cup – only six days into this tournament.
Man of the match – Yuya Osako (Japan)
Yuya Osako made the decisive contribution for Japan by scoring the winner
‘We will save our celebration’ – what they said
Japan coach Akira Nishino: “Our players were aggressive from the start and that worked very well for us. This is just one win and three points, so we will save our celebration.
“From the start I thought we could be very aggressive and of course we had the advantage of more players. However, I said at half-time, ‘It is not just the number of players. Keep moving, get the positioning advantage, to deprive the Colombian front players of their stamina.’
“In the second half we could control the game and ball better and that is why we got the second goal.”
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman: “We were expecting something completely different. We were hoping to start with a victory.
“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,”