This was the first time Senegal have ever played an Asian team in the World Cup with the match played just inside Asia at the Ekaterinburg stadium. Japan strolled out of the tunnel with an unchanged lineup after the winning start against Colombia. There was one change for Senegal with Stoke striker Diouf dropped so the goalscorer against Poland, M’Baye Niang could move into a central position with Sadio Mane and Ismaili Sarr on the flanks.
In the first few minutes of the match Japan knew they had their work cut out with Senegal able to easily create space in wide areas. Japan defended early corners confidently but struggled to attack themselves, Shinji Kagawa having the best of the early touches for the Asian team. As composed as the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was, his teammates were struggling. Sarr was running Nagatomo ragged and it was his cross that was so poorly defended by Haraguchi whose headed clearance fell straight into the path of Youssouf Sabaly. Sabaly’s effort was deflected into the goal as Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima punched the ball onto Sadio Mane. It was a fully deserved opener for Senegal who continued to push after their breakthrough.
As the minutes ticked by Japan began to settle down with Captain Makoto Hasebe saw a powerful drive blocked by his own teammate Takashi Inui. Senegal continued to search for a second but it was Japan who struck next. Nagatomo, so impressive against Colombia, was picked out by Shibasaki wide on the left and he cut inside before allowing Inui to take over. The technical Inui cut in on his preferred right foot and hit a curling effort into the far corner, his first competitive goal for his country. Japan were elated and suddenly it was game on.
Hasebe began to drop deep in between the Japan centre backs with both fullbacks, Sakai and Nagatomo pushed high up the pitch. This meant chances for both teams but the score remained level at the break.
Into the second half and chances kept coming for both sides, Niang and Osako both coming close. The game, with constant free kicks, became disrupted and disjointed but Japan did create a guilt edged chance for frontman Osaka who couldn’t quite reach Haraguchi’s cross. This chance brought the game back to life with Senegal soon having a penalty shout waved away before Osako teed up Inui who curled a shot onto the crossbar. While Japan couldn’t convert their chance, Senegal could. A sizzling cross from Sabaly was met at the far post by Moussa Wague who smashed the ball into the top corner, Inui was nowhere near the right back he was supposed to be tracking.
Japan weren’t worried and made a few attacking changes with Honda and Okazaki
coming on the field of play. It was the two substitutes who would combine to level the scores once again, Okazaki occupying the goalkeeper whilst Keisuke Honda put the ball into the back of the empty net. Kagawa was off the pitch but Honda playing in behind both Osako and Okazaki was proving hard for the Senegalese to deal with in the closing stages with Japan coming on strong.
Akira Nashino’s team played their way through four minutes of added time and battled their way to a point. Twice the Japanese came back from a goal down against a Senegal team many thought would beat them. The Japanese, after showing guts and determination, will now watch the later game between Colombia and Poland with vested interest as they vie to qualify to the knockout stages.
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