Costa Rica shocked Japan as they left Group E wide open and with everything to play for after scoring with their first and only attempt on target of the whole World Cup as they struck late on in a game which lacked quality.
After their shock victory over Germany in the opening round of games, Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu made five changes to his starting eleven. Morita, Soma, Ueda, Yamane and Doan, who came on to get the equaliser on Wednesday afternoon against Germany. Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu came on at half time against Germany but was named on the bench once again as he is still recovering from injury so needs to be managed well.
Costa Rica only made two changes from the side which was smashed seven nil by Spain in the opening round of matches as Watson and Torres replace Martines and Bennette. Costa Rica failed to have a shot in their opening match defeat to Spain and are now winless in their last seven World Cup matches dating back to 2014. They knew coming into this match that if they were defeated then qualification would be practically impossible and would be mathematically unachievable if Spain were to draw against Germany and they lost to Japan.
The first half lacked any flow or enthusiasm from either team and it was honestly one of the worst halves of football at this World Cup so far. There wasn’t one key chance to talk about from it and a game which many were excited about after Japan’s win over Germany had been a snooze fest. Japan had held possession of the ball for long period of the half but kept on making the incorrect decisions at crucial moments in the match. Costa Rica were sitting in and defending well but would only have long range shots which would fly high and wide of the goal.
Japan turned to their bench as the second half started as Takuma Asano, who scored the winner against Germany, came onto the pitch for Ueda upfront. Almost immediately, he made an impact as he flicked the ball inside and set up Morita who took the shot from outside the area and forced Navas into a good save to keep the game goalless. Asano changed the game for Japan and looked to just be the injection of pace that they needed to turn the game in their favour.
Japan always looked the more promising and attacking side which their changes reflected as they subbed off defenders and put on attackers such as Mitoma and Ito but they were struggling in the final third. They were dominating the game but they were lacking a killer instinct upfront and a way to get the opening goal. Ito instantly made an impact as he turned Calvo and looked to be advancing into the penalty area for a one on one when he was pulled back. The centre back was booked with many questioning if it was a clear goal scoring opportunity but it was just a yellow card and nothing came of the resulting free kick as Japan started to really push for the winner.
With just ten minutes to go and completely against the run of play, Costa Rica took the lead with their first shot on target of the whole World Cup. Japan failed to clear the ball away gifting it to Fuller on the edge of the area who set a looping and curling shot towards the top corner. Gonda was caught off his line as he got a glove to it but not enough to prevent it from going into the back of the net and sending the Costa Rican’s crazy!
There was still time for a goal mouth scramble to keep the score line in Costa Rica’s favour as some lovely play from Mitoma had him advancing into the penalty area. He pulled it back across to Kamada who had his shot saved and then a scramble occurred as the ball bounced around but eventually ended up in Navas’ hands.
The Costa Rica game plan had worked as they sat and frustrated Japan for large spells of the game and then got the bit of luck that they needed further up the pitch and they took that one chance that came to them. Japan looked a shell of the side that were so determined and resilient when beating Germany on Wednesday as they struggled to combine any passes together in the final third. They dominated the majority of the match but Gonda should’ve done better with the goal and they needed to take their chances which in the end cost them the points.
For both sides qualification now hangs in the balance in the final round of group games as Japan take on Spain while Costa Rica face the Germans. Dependent on the result on that match later, Japan could potentially only need a draw to qualify through if Germany lose tonight but if not, they will be looking at the other game on Thursday evening.