Ahmad bin Ali Stadium erupted for two reasons when Keysher Fuller’s 14-yard strike proved too high for goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda. Those of a Costa Rican persuasion were delighted to see not just the winner, but their country’s first shot on target from Qatar 2022 after Luis Fernando Suárez’s side blanked their Destroyed 7-0 by Spain.
This means Group E is wide open because Germany come into Sunday night’s game against Spain as the only country with zero points and yet this result is a definite boost for them as they face Costa Rica last.
For the goal, Hidemasa Morita was Japan’s first culprit, offering the ball to Yeltsin Tejeda, who found Fuller – although Gonda was the second Samurai Blue man to blame because he had flat feet. In a late burst Japan appealed for a penalty for a handball by Bryan Oviedo after Daichi Kamada’s shot but to no avail.
A satisfied Suárez said: “We are alive, that’s the main thing. No one can say we’re out yet – we can still dream. It’s not a question of tactics, it’s a question of passion; the more pressure we have, the more we can prove ourselves. We were dead yesterday – now we are alive.
Hajime Moriyasu’s team must regroup after his seismic victory over Germany and the coach was asked if his side could shock the World Cup a second time by beating Spain. “We are aiming for victory,” he said. “We beat Germany, but that doesn’t mean we can win against Spain. These countries are the title holders of the World Cup, so we have a lot of respect for them. But we won a game against Germany. Spain will be difficult but we have a good chance of winning. So we will prepare and confidently go to the next game.
“Spain will be a very intense game. We just need to increase the chances for Japan. That’s how I decided on the tactics [for today]. The result didn’t work, but we tried and I think that’s what Japan needed.
His strategy was the same as against Germany – waiting to hit Costa Rica with fast breaks. The problem was that this was also Costa Rica’s tactic and so a static deal materialized after the most false of false dawns when Morita and Yuki Soma claimed an opening corner between them. The latter swung that, Ayase Ueda missed the header and a staggering Costa Rican escaped.
More encouraging for Costa Rica, Joel Campbell, 120 cap, got a free kick, although Celso Borges’ shot was snatched from the air by Gonda, Japan’s man of the match against Germany.
Japan gave Costa Rica another scare when Ritsu Doan, whose equalizer against Germany earned him a start, kicked the ball past Keylor Navas’ goal, but no team-mate was present.
From there, the quality leveled off in a midfield stalemate, exemplified by the 0-0 shots on target range in the interval, with neither team able to seize the initiative. When Francisco Calvo and Campbell took aim, it was flaccid efforts, so it fell into the ‘small mercies’ department that there was only a minute of time added by referee, Michael Oliver , at aperture 45.
For the second half, Moriyasu decided that Yuto Nagatomo and Ueda had contributed enough, scrapping them for Hiroki Ito and Takuma Asano, the latter the memorable winner’s scorer who beat Germany.
Twenty-seven seconds later, a real shot is stopped by Navas: Morita is the player who finally finds the target and the memory is revived of the quality of Japan after half-time against the quadruple world champions.
Campbell’s dribbling manner, in which he crafted a straight out of touch path with little pressure on him, suggested his nation might not be better off, however. The former Arsenal striker’s next entry into the contest ledger was to ball a free kick diagonally from 40 yards and, when Wataru Endo was fouled, Soma did the same from the edge of the Costa Rican area.
Moments later, at an almost identical spot, Calvo downed Junya Ito, just as a substitute, and this time Kamada wasted, hammering the stopped piece straight into the wall.
Then came Fuller’s decisive intervention. It really wasn’t a match to remember, but the rankings mean each of the final two matches will be live, which can make for an exciting ending.