Japan take full advantage of Colombia’s calamitous start

Carlos Sanchez sent off after just four minutes for hand ball

Colombia 1 Japan 2

It is difficult to imagine a team making a more calamitous start to a game in this World Cup finals than Colombia did here and, unfortunately for José Pékerman and his players, there was another blow to come on top of being a goal and a man down inside a chaotic first six minutes.

Yuya Osako delivered it with a towering second-half header to give Japan a victory that leaves Colombia, who were quarter-finalists in Brazil four years ago, with much to do if they are to progress to the next phase.

The tone of a glorious afternoon in Saransk was set in that remarkable opening period. There were only two minutes and 56 seconds on the clock when Carlos Sánchez was shown a red card for a deliberate handball inside the Colombia area. It was the second fastest sending off in World Cup history – Alberto Batista's dismissal for Uruguay against Scotland in 1986 after just 54 seconds will take some beating – and Shinji Kagawa was not going to pass up the chance to put Japan ahead from the spot.


Down to 10 men and without James Rodríguez, who was not fit enough to start, Colombia were right up against it but showed plenty of character and no little class to haul themselves back into the game.

Juan Quintero’s clever free-kick, slid under the Japan wall towards the end of the first half, brought parity. Yet Japan roused after the interval and it was no real surprise when Osako nodded them in front after a sustained spell of pressure.

Colombia rallied late on but they were left to reflect on that awful start. Davinson Sánchez, who had a difficult afternoon throughout, has to take his share of the blame for the chain of events that unfolded, after he got in a tangle dealing with a routine ball over the top that ought to have been cleared. Osako somehow came out of that one-on-one duel on top, scampered clear and saw his low effort blocked by David Ospina, who had only just got to his feet when Kagawa seized on the loose ball. Kagawa's first-time shot would have put Japan ahead but Carlos Sánchez stuck out his right arm to block and Damir Skomina, the Slovenian referee, reached for his back pocket to brandish a red card.

The former Aston Villa player complained bitterly and took several minutes to leave the field as Colombian players surrounded the referee – something that Fifa are likely to frown upon – yet Skomina was left with no option and Carlos Sánchez, with the benefit of hindsight, may well reflect that he would have been better of letting Kagawa score. That view was reinforced when the Borussia Dortmund forward calmly rolled his spot-kick past Ospina.

Colombia were rattled for a period and badly needed to regain their composure – something that Takashi Inui lacked when the winger squandered an excellent chance to double Japan's lead after 15 minutes following a lovely piece of play from Kagawa, who was able to find more space in the area that Carlos Sánchez, a deep-lying midfielder, had vacated.

Although Quintero and Radamel Falcao had linked up well on a couple of occasions, forcing Eiji Kawashima into two close-range saves, Pékerman got to the half-hour mark and decided that he had seen enough. Juan Cuadrado, who had been an injury doubt beforehand, made way for Wilmar Barrios, a more defensively-minded player. Another Colombian defensive error, involving the substitute and Davinson Sánchez almost presented Japan with a second but Osako shot wildly off target with the angle against him.

Colombia, whose colourful supporters turned the stadium yellow, needed a little bit of magic and Quintero provided it six minutes before the interval. Falcao may well have been a touch fortunate to win a free-kick around 22 yards from goal – the Colombia striker spent a lot of time on the floor – but there was so much to admire about what Quintero did next.

Anticipating that the four players in the Japan wall would jump, Quintero placed a low left-footed shot underneath them, catching out Kawashima, who frantically tried to get across his line to keep the ball out. He had too much ground to make up, however, and goal-line technology confirmed what everyone suspected – Colombia were level.

Although Colombia’s numerical disadvantage was not so apparent for periods of the first half, it was a different story after the interval as Japan, perhaps stung by Quintero’s goal, started to play with much more attacking ambition. Osaka, using his body to roll the ragged Davinson Sánchez inside the Colombia area, forced Ospina into a low save and the Arsenal goalkeeper made another fine stop to deny Inui three minutes later.

Colombia were hanging on. A deflection took Hiroki Sakai’s shot the wrong side of the post but from the corner that followed Japan regained the lead as Osako climbed above Santiago Arias to head in Keisuke Honda’s corner. Rodríguez, on for Quintero just before the hour mark, came close to a late equaliser but this never looked like being Colombia’s day from the third minute onwards. - Guardian service

COLOMBIA (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Arias, D Sanchez, Murillo, Mojica; C Sanchez, Lerma; Cuadrado (Barrios, 31 mins), Quintero (Rodriguez, 58 mins), F Izquierdo (Bacca, 70 mins); Falcao. Booked: Barrios,Rodriguez. Sent off: Carlos Sanchez.

JAPAN (4-2-3-1): Kawashima; H Sakai, Yoshida, Shoji, Nagatomo; Hasebe, Shibasaki (Yamaguchi, 80 mins); Haraguchi, Kagawa (Honda, 70 mins), Inui,; Osako (Okazaki, 85 mins). Booked: Kawashima.

Referee: D Skomina (Slovenia).