The 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 only the winner but their nation’s first shot on target of Qatar 2022 after Luis Fernando Suárez’s side drew a blank in their 7-0 drubbing by Spain.
It means Group E is wide open because Germany go into Sunday night’s game against Spain as the only country with zero points and yet this result is a definite fillip for them because they face Costa Rica last.
For the goal Hidemasa Morita was Japan’s first culprit, gifting the ball to Yeltsin Tejeda, who found Fuller – though Gonda was the second Samurai Blue man to blame because he was flatfooted. In a late flurry Japan appealed for a penalty for a Bryan Oviedo handball after Daichi Kamada’s shot but to no avail.
A content Suárez said: “We are alive, this is the main thing. No one can say we are out yet – we can still dream. This is not about tactics, it’s about passion; the more pressure we have the more we can prove ourselves. We were dead yesterday – now we are alive.”
Hajime Moriyasu’s side have to regroup after their seismic victory over Germany and the coach was asked whether his team could shock the World Cup a second time by beating Spain. “We are going for the win,” he said. “We’ve beaten Germany but it doesn’t mean we can win against Spain. Those countries are World Cup title holders, so we have a lot of respect for them. But we won a match against Germany. Spain will be tough but there is a good chance for us to win. So we will prepare and with confidence go to the next game.
“Spain will be a very intense game. We just need to increase the odds for Japan. That’s how I decided the tactics [for today]. The result didn’t work out but we tried and I believe this is what Japan needed.”
His strategy was the same as against Germany – wait to hit Costa Rica with quick breaks. The problem was this was Costa Rica’s tactic too and thus a static affair materialized after the falsest of false dawns when Morita and Yuki Soma claimed an early corner between them. The latter swung this in, Ayase Ueda missed the header and a shaky Costa Rica escaped.
More encouraging for Costa Rica was a burst from the 120-cap Joel Campbell that earned a free-kick, though Celso Borges’s delivery was plucked from the air by Gonda, Japan’s man of the match against Germany.
Japan handed Costa Rica another fright when Ritsu Doan, whose equalizer against Germany earned him a start, flashed the ball across Keylor Navas’s goal but no teammate was present.
From here quality flatlined in a stodgy midfield standoff, illustrated by the 0-0 shots-on-target count at the interval, with neither team able to seize the initiative. When Francisco Calvo and Campbell did take aim these were flaccid efforts, so it fell into the “small mercies” department that there was only a minute of time added by the referee, Michael Oliver, to the opening 45.
For the second half Moriyasu decided Yuto Nagatomo and Ueda had contributed enough, removing them for Hiroki Ito and Takuma Asano, the latter the scorer of the memorable winner which downed Germany.
Twenty-seven seconds in and an actual shot was saved by Navas: Morita was the player who finally found the target and the memory was revived of how good Japan were after half-time against the four-times world champions.
The manner of a Campbell dribble, in which he engineered a path straight out of touch with scant pressure on him, suggested his nation might not be any better, though. The former Arsenal forward’s next entry into the contest ledger was to balloon a 40-yard diagonal free-kick out and, when Wataru Endo was fouled, Soma did the same from the edge of the Costa Rican area.
Moments later, at a near-identical spot, Calvo yanked down Junya Ito, just on as a substitute, and this time Kamada was wasteful, hammering the set piece right into the wall.
Next came Fuller’s decisive intervention. This, really, was no match to remember but the standings mean that each of the last two games will be live, which may allow for an exciting end.