Japan wore down a Colombian team reduced to 10 men and won, 2-1, on Tuesday in Saransk.
The game started terribly for Colombia, which had lined up without its star, James Rodriguez, who is nursing a leg injury.
Shinji Osako raced past the Colombian defense in the 6th minute and was in alone on goal. David Ospina made the save, but it rebounded to Kagawa who was following the play. His own shot was blocked, but Carlos Sanchez of Colombia used his hand to do so.
That meant a penalty, and a red card for Sanchez. Colombia played the remaining 84 minutes down a man. And Kagawa converted the penalty to put Japan on top.
Colombia fought back gamely despite its lack of numbers and got an equalizer in the 39th minute. Falcao fell to the ground rather easily, not for the first time, and drew a free kick call. Japan’s wall jumped, but Juan Quintero’s shot was low. It slid under the leaping wall, then just trickled into the corner of net.
In the second half, Colombia’s shortage of men began to tell and the team tired. With a half-hour to go it got a boost from the arrival of James Rodriguez, who looked close to 100 percent. But it was Japan who went ahead.
Substitute Keisuke Honda took a corner, which Yuya Osako leaped highest for and headed off the post and into the net. That left Japan to mostly play an effective keep-away game for the final 20 minutes.
Japan became the latest side to pull off an upset at the World Cup, joining Mexico, Switzerland and Iceland in earning surprising results. This scoreline was particularly unexpected in light of the fact that Japan had changed coaches shortly before the tournament, and because no Asian team had ever previously defeated a South American side in 17 World Cup meetings.
Group H, which also includes Poland and Senegal, was said to be the most evenly matched at the World Cup. But many still ranked Japan the weakest of the teams. After this win, Japan is in pole position to qualify.
Andrew Das: That’s an enormous result for Japan, and it’s really scrambles the group — and perceptions. Japan is in its sixth straight World Cup but has long been seen as a rider more than a driver. It has advanced to the round of 16 only twice — on home soil in 2002 and again in 2010 — but promptly went right out. This victory, over a good Colombia team many thought could win the group, just put Poland and Senegal on notice.