Posted by News Express | 25 June 2018 | 1,372 times
Japan have taken their oldest ever World Cup squad to Russia and all that experience counted for something as they summoned the spirit and attacking intuition to twice drag themselves back into a match that challenged them in every way.
There had been many a cliche about the stylistic difference between African and Asian football in the pre-match discourse, but Japan’s determination to compete first and then break with conviction was a great leveller.
Senegal’s manager, Aliou Cissé, never really bought the idea that physical power would be the great advantage it was cracked up to be, and Japan’s efforts, their confidence that they could find a way for their own talents to make a difference, pushed them towards another promising result.
Control of Group H – whose qualifiers will meet England and Belgium from Group G in the knockouts – was at stake, and at the end of this topsy-turvy encounter, nobody was any the wiser who progress, even though this draw keeps both teams tied on top of the group for now.
Senegal regretted an opportunity missed from a display where they did not hit full stride.
“Honestly we are all a bit disappointed,” said Sadio Mané, who opened the scoring early but by the end of it, all could not hide the feeling that his team took a step back after the positivity of a stylish victory in their opening group game.
Cissé could not quite put his finger on the reasons, but he admitted this was not the performance for which he was hoping. “Of course we have regrets but I must say we didn’t see a great Senegal team,” he said. “What I know is that at this level of competition with the players we have here, players who play at world level, we conceded two avoidable goals and we were not very good. The best team, I must admit, was Japan.”
The best team drew. But if Senegal wants to take one consolation from the match it is that Japan created the chances to win late on as they finished in the ascendancy.
“Big and strong doesn’t really mean much in football. When it comes to speed and shots the Japanese were very good. I didn’t see much physical differences, commitment levels were 50/50,” noted Cissé. That said, Japan did look a little overawed at the start, standing off any Senegalese advances, and it took only 11 minutes for Japan’s defence to panic and Mané to be the grateful beneficiary.
Genki Haraguchi tried to clear a cross but could only glance a backward header weakly into Youssouf Sabaly’s path. His shot was parried by Japan’s goalkeeper, Eiji Kawashima, straight to the lurking Mané. Liverpool’s attacker didn’t have to do anything except being in the right place at the right time. The ball simply bounced off him and in.
Japan’s equaliser came with a sudden flash of neat, precise football. Yuto Nagatomo burst into the box and controlled a long pass, dinking on for Takashi Inui to set himself to curl a low shot past Kadim Ndiaye. They really grew into the game and conjured two brilliant opportunities to take the lead around the hour mark. So close, but Yuya Osako could only fresh-air kick when he was through, and Inui cracked a shot against the crossbar.
Senegal pulled themselves together and found a moment to express themselves. Mané instigated it all, delaying and cajoling until he found Sabaly running into space. The Bordeaux man danced into position and drilled the ball across goal for Moussa Wagué to hammer in from an acute angle.
Japan again fought their way back into the game. This time Ndiaye, Senegal’s goalkeeper, had a moment to forget as he flapped at a cross, Inui drove the loose ball back, and Keisuke Honda seized the moment to pick his spot.
“We came back from behind twice and each time after conceding the team was calm,” said Akira Nishino. “We could play in our own rhythm, our own way. After we won the first match we wanted to be aggressive towards the second match. We got a point. The result we had is going to have a very positive impact on the third match.”
Overall, Senegal missed some accuracy in their final ball around the box, and Cissé wants them to refocus ahead of the final group game.
“We need to improve the impact, more aggression on the ball. We need to have more concentration. We were getting the ball then losing it,” said Cissé. “There were lot of technical errors – too many. We didn’t play a great game but we didn’t lose.
“We hope to qualify. We have to be concentrated and believe in it. The last day is going to be hard fought.”
•Japan’s Yuto Nagatomo vies with Senegal’s Mbaye Niang during the 2-2 draw in Group H at the Ekaterinburg Arena. Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat
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