Group H wide open as Japan fights back for 2-2 draw with Senegal
Japan 2 (Inui 34′, Honda 78′)
Senegal 2 (Mané 11′, Wagué 71′)
By Patrick Woods
Japan has come from behind twice to draw 2-2 with Senegal in Ekaterinburg meaning the Group H qualification places will only be decided on the final matchday.
The draw puts the two teams level at the top of the group with four points each, but Colombia’s victory over Poland means it is also a chance of securing one of the knockout stage places.
It was a physical start to the match as Senegal tried to use its size and height advantage by sending long balls into the box.
This was something that Japanese coach Akira Nishino had prepared for, focusing his team on effective use of possession.
“In the last few days I told my players to grow 5 centimetres and put on 5 kilograms,” Nishino said. “They couldn’t do it. So instead we will have to try to win by using the ball well.”
Senegal was rewarded for its strong start with an early goal when Japan’s keeper Eiji Kawashima inexplicably punched Youssouf Sabaly’s shot instead of catching it, and the ball thumped into Sadio Mané’s knees and rebounded into the goal.
Japan began to string together more possession after they shifted the focus of their attack to the wings, and this approach provided them with an equaliser when Inui picked up the ball on the edge of the box, taking two touches before curling the ball around the keeper and into the bottom right corner.
The Japanese onslaught continued after half-time and Senegal were lucky not to concede, with Yuya Osako managing to miss a tap in and then Inui hit the crossbar.
Senegal captain Sadio Mané seemed to be everywhere in attack and defence as he did his best to lift his team.
His work paid off in the 70th minute when his deft chip set Sabaly free in the box and his cross found 19-year-old Moussa Wagué at the back post where he blasted in his first international goal from close range.
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Senegal’s lead only lasted seven minutes as Japan continued to enjoy the bulk of possession.
The Blue Samurai pounced on a mistake by Senegal’s goalkeeper N’Diaye who came for a cross but missed the ball, and Keisuke Honda scored from close range to make history by becoming Japan’s first player to score a goal at three World Cups.
The draw sets up a thrilling final matchday with Japan, Senegal and Colombia all capable of winning Group H.
The match-ups will see Senegal face Colombia while Japan takes on Poland.
Shot Attempts (On Target):
Japan: 7 (3)
Senegal: 12 (7)
Japan: 1 Kawashima (GK), 3 Shoji, 5 Nagatomo, 19 Sakai, 22 Yoshida, 7 Shibasaki, 8 Haraguchi (75’), 17 Hasebe (c), 10 Kagawa (72’), 14 Inui (87’), 15 Osako
Substitutes: 2 Ueda, 4 Honda (72’), 6 Endo, 9 Okazaki (75’), 11 Usami (87’), 12 Higashiguchi (GK), 13 Muto, 16 Yamaguchi, 18 Oshima, 20 Makino, 21 Sakai, 23 Nakamura (GK)
Senegal: 16 K. N’Diaye (GK), 22 Wague, 6 Sane, 3 Koulibaly, 12 Sabaly, 18 Sarr, 13 A. N’Diaye (65’), 5 Gueye, 17 P. A. N’Diaye (81’), 10 Mane (c), 19 Niang (86’)
Substitutes: 1 Diallo (GK), 2 Mbengue, 4 Kara, 7 Sow, 8 Kouyate (65’), 11 N’Doye (81’), 14 Konate, 15 Sahko, 20 Keita, 21 Gassama, 23 Gomis (GK), 9 Diouf (86’)