June 20, 2018

Horse 2425 - Blue Samurai Stun Los Cafeteros

Colombia 1 - Japan 2
Kagawa - 6'
Quintero - 39'
Osako - 73'

For some hitherto unknown reason that I don't know about, this World Cup is throwing up more upsets and unexpected surprises than most World Cups that I have seen. It also has delivered fewer scoreless draws than any other World Cup that I have seen. My suspicion is that because the minnows of the tournament have nothing to lose, then they go out there to win. This kind of mentality is difficult for a higher ranked team to accept and deal with because in principle, the players from the higher ranked nations usually play in competitions where the stakes are higher and the fear of losing outweighs the glory of winning.

Colombia went into their opening group game against Japan, knowing that Japan was the lowest ranked team in the group and that an Asian nation had never beaten a South American nation at a World Cup. When you also factor in that Japan hadn't even won a match at the World Cup proper since the 2010 edition of the tournament, then Colombia must have thought that they could score early and then cruise for the rest of the match, before taking home three points. Cruising would never be an option for them.

The opening few minutes was played at a furious tempo. If Japan was supposed to be a pushover, then nobody had told them so and they opened with a belief in themselves and an attacking flair that Colombia was never prepared for. If Colombia had done their research, they would have found out that the Japanese manager had only arrived in the job in April, and this might have led them to the conclusion that Japan would be in disarray. Japan was not.
After a series of continued attacks, the Japanese forwards opened up Colombia at the back and some terrible marking meant that there was an early shot on goal. This bounced around a bit and the second shot was handballed in the area by Carlos Sanchez. This was as blatant as the day is long and not only did Sanchez concede a penalty but he was sent off for deliberately and illegally stopping a goal scoring opportunity. There was something of a yellow shirted parliament which quickly surrounded the referee and they wanted the matter overturned by the VAR but there was no way that the referee was going to be overruled.
Shinji Kagawa's penalty was neither powerful nor would have been difficult for the keeper to have kept out except he went the wrong way and the ball traveled reliably into the goal.

Having been reduced to ten men, Colombia would play the remaining 84 minutes with a personnel problem and the Colombian manager made a substitution which took a striker off and replaced him with a defender. This meant that Colombia were pared back to a lone striker in Falcao and most of the Colombian attacks for the rest of the match were directed through him.
He would eventually win a free kick for Colombia which had it been referred to the VAR would surely have been overturned because Falcao practically walked backwards into the defender and then fell over himself. The referee saw the event differently and was sold the deception and thusly awarded the free kick just outside the Japanese 18 yard box.

Quintero stepped up and executed a brilliant piece of thinking by sprinting at the dead ball, which made the Japanese wall jump in anticipation but the shot was a wormburner which drove a streak directly under the wall and it completely took the Japanese goalkeeper Kawashima off guard. He tried to make the claim that he'd somehow trapped the ball in front of the goal line but the linesman saw that he'd fished it out of the goal, 20,000 Colombian fans had seen on the big screen that he'd fished it out of the goal, the worldwide audience had seen that he'd fished it out of the goal, and the goal line technology confirmed that all the ball had crossed the line.

They entered the half time break with the scores still level and it would seem that the match would more or less dribble out to its logical conclusion. Colombia lacked the firepower up front to worry the Japanese goal, and Japan met a highly organised  wall of resistance which meant that they were never going to find a way through in open play. And they didn't.
The veteran Honda was brought on at about the hour mark as a kind of talisman and although Japan didn't really see any improvement in their lack of striking opportunities, they did settle down into a more composed rhythm. Eventually they won a corner and none other than Honda stepped up to deliver a frighteningly accurate ball that only found Osako's head, thence the back of the net. It wasn't met with power but enough deftness to jank the ball back towards the near post.
From here, the match again returned to a lack of Colombian firepower versus Japan's inability to break Colombian defences. Although there was a very late Colombian corner, this was dealt with calmly and the scores remained unchanged.

What this result does is throw the group wide open. If Japan were expected to be the whipping boys and Colombia had expected to convert this match into points, then neither of those things happened. Poland and Senegal must surely be looking over their shoulders because Japan will have found confidence out of this and Colombia will be forced to play both of their remaining matches where they are forced to try and win.
If we assume that Columbia hadn't been reduced to ten men, then the gulf in class was evident that they would have in all likelihood have won. The fact that this match was so evenly poised, was only made possible because Japan were playing with 10% more personnel. One of the fundamental qualities of football is that it is very much a numbers game and a whole host of tactics revolve around creating immediate overlaps. Of course this does immediately bring into question the quality of this Japan side but you can only play the game in front of you and the truth of the matter is that although neither side scored a goal in properly open play, Japan's second goal was the result of them attacking sufficiently well enough that Colombia did put the ball behind their own goal line.

I listened to the whole match on NHK Radio with the telly on and the Colombian player Carlos Bacca was frequently referred to as Karosu Baka, or in English, "Colossal Idiot". 

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