Japan 0 Costa Rica 1
Japan choke opportunity to reach last 16
Choking is a relative term, of course. Seventy-two years have passed since Brazil, fresh from trouncing Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1, led in the de facto final against Uruguay only to concede twice in the space of 13 minutes in front of a disbelieving 173,000 crowd at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro and, in doing so, pass up a first World Cup crown. In 2010, the reigning world champions Italy needed to beat Slovakia to avoid the ignominy of a group stage exit after draws against Paraguay and New Zealand and proceeded to collectively collapse under the pressure.
So others have had it a lot worse than Japan here and all is not yet lost but there are unlikely to be many bigger missed opportunities at this tournament, even if we will not know until Thursday - when Group E concludes - just how costly this latest entry into the World Cup hall of chokes proves to be.
By the end, Japan’s players, true to their customs, lined up in a row and bowed solemnly in front of their supporters, who applauded their apologists with a quiet, dignified decorum when, internally, they must have been wanting to scream, self-combust and a whole lot in between.
After beating Germany 2-1 in their opening match, Japan had put themselves in a fabulous position to all but secure their passage to the Round of 16 with a game to spare. Lying in wait was a Costa Rica side who had been thrashed 7-0 by Spain, during which time they had failed to muster a shot and seen only 18 per cent of the ball. In other words, this was about as inviting an opponent as you could realistically expect to meet at this level but football loves to rip up a script and Japan were wilful participants in their own downfall.
Chokes do not all follow a set formula but this one felt as much on the manager as the players. If it all blows up in Japan’s face from hereon in, Hajime Moriyasu may be left to wonder why he himself remained so cautious when Costa Rica’s special brand of anti-football should never have been allowed to emerge with the endorsement of three points and (faint) hope of passage through to the knockout stages.
Across 180 minutes of football, Costa Rica’s one shot on target resulted in a fluky late goal for the right wing-back Keysher Fuller from their only concerted attack of note and sunk Japan who would surely not have made such a hash of this had some of their most creative players not remained marooned on the bench for so long.
Brighton fans are still becoming acquainted with Kaoru Mitoma but this is a winger of rip-roaring intent with five goals in 10 appearances for Japan and a bucket load of tricks with which to bamboozle defenders. Takumi Minamino, now of Monaco, was no stranger to a big game and pressure situation with Liverpool. And Takuma Asano was surging with confidence after his match-winning goal against Germany. Yet none of that trio started and had to wait until different junctures of the second half before being introduced and asked to salvage the situation, Minamino not coming on until the 82th minute and the criminally underused Mitoma getting less than half an hour.
“To a certain degree, we are praying,” Moriyasu said. “The result was a shame and that’s what we need to reflect on but I don’t think it was a total mistake from us.”
With Costa Rica’s entire team camped in their own half for long periods, this was an occasion ripe for lock pickers and a loaded attack but Japan - and their coach - were much too passive and they ended up getting routinely hounded out by their opponent’s greater physicality and dogs of war attitude. That and the occasional dose of delicious s---housery, best embodied by the sight of the Costa Rica defender Francisco Calvo just about escaping a red card for a sly tug on the back of Junya Ito’s shirt as he prepared to pull the trigger on the edge of the penalty area.
It was just all so flimsy from Japan and summed up by the goal, with Shuichi Gonda getting a hand to the ball but not a strong enough one to prevent Fuller’s deflected shot from dribbling over his head and into the net. There have been more categoric chokes but this really was an open goal missed by Japan.
So how you going to rate match-winner Fuller?
Rate him and the rest of the players from that mini-shock here.
FULL-TIME: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica
Great result for Costa Rica - one shot on target, one goal and a win.
Japan were the better side BUT they looked listless in attack and Navas didn't have much to do. They paid for being too passive in the first half. They beat Germany thanks to passion and energy - both were lacking today and this result has made Group E so side open.
95 mins: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica
Free-kick for Japan - it's on the left inside the Costa Ricans half. BUT as with most this match they cannot fashion a chance and the Central Americans clear the ball.
93 mins: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica
Mitoma has made a huge difference since he's come on - once again he beats his man on the left. causing chaos in the area before the Costa Ricans somehow bundle (that's the best word to covey the panic...) the ball away.
Fuller's goal - a triptych
90 mins: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica
Six minutes of added time for Japan to get the goal you have to say - thanks to their lack of cutting edge - they don't deserve.
87 mins: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica
What a chance for Japan - Mitoma does brilliantly on the left cutting inside and then beating his man on the byline before getting a low cross in. Costa Rica block the cross but the ball falls at the feet of Kamada whose first-time shot is at first parried then saved by Navas.
That was their best chance of the match.
86 mins: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica
If you thought Costa Rica were sitting deep before that goal then you should see how deep they are now. Little doubt their happy with the one-goal lead!
83 mins: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica
Japan have been on top all match - but lack creativity and poise have let them down today. Costa Rica have pulled the rabbit out of the hat.
GOOOOOOAAAAAALLLL!! Japan 0-1 Costa Rica
Costa Rica are one goal to the good thanks to Fuller!
The Costa Rican gets the ball on the edge of the area and shoots on the turn - Gonda, in the Japan goal, gets an outstretched arm to it but is up too early and cannot prevent the ball finding the back of the net.
It's Costa Rica's first shot on target this tournament.
77 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Consecutive corners for Japan but, as with most of what they've done in the final third today, neither troubles the Costa Rica defence.
A little over 12 minutes for Japan to get the goal they expected...they've not looked like scoring yet.
Calvo makes sure Ito doesn't get a shot in
74 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Ito does brilliantly in his own half, beating his man on the right before playing a lovely ball to Asano. But Costa Rica's Clavo does well to crowd him out and the chance to create a chance goes begging.
Soma then gets the ball on the right, he has a great chance to get in a good cross but woefully overhits the ball and the Central Americans once again are not troubled in their own area.
69 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Ito looks through for Japan having turned Calvo, but he's brought down by the Costa Rica defender right on the edge of the area. It's a free-kick and looks as though it could be a red card BUT Michael Oliver takes pity on Calvo and it's just a yellow.
The resulting free-kick is hammered by Asano, but it's right at the wall.
A bird's eye view of that free-kick
67 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Costa Rica are making life tough for Japan who, for all their increase tempo and purpose since the break, just cannot summon the creativity to fashion a decent chance.
63 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Brighton's Mitoma is on for Yamane for Japan and Sunderland's Jewisom Bennette is on for Costa Rica.
If Japan draw here they'd need a draw against Spain to go through so this really is a great opportunity for them - you think they've got to go for this in the last 25 or so minutes...
60 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Morita finds Edno who cuts inside and is about to pull the trigger when Torres intervenes - illegally - and Japan have a free-kick on the edge of the area.
Can they make it count? No, is the answer as Soma tries to whip it into the far, left corner. But it's too close to the goal and the ball flies over the crossbar.
58 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
It's all Japan at the moment, Costa Rica seem happy to just sit back and contain. You'd think at 0-0 against a side that has created little to nothing and knowing their place in this tournament in at stake they'd at least think about having a go...
56 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Soma cuts in from the left for Japan and goes for goal - the shot is poor, high and well, well wide BUT credit to him for at least having a go. Others on the pitch should take note...
55 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
This game has gone back into safe mode for the moment, all rather 'after you Claude...'
51 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Already seen more energy and creativity in the first six minutes of this half than in the entirety of the first half.
Japan are playing with more purpose and variety and as I type Yoshida dinks a ball into the box that Navas does well to come and collect.
47 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Asano is on for Ueda and has already had a big impact getting in a good cross from the left and adding some much-needed energy and tempo into what was a listless Japan.
This is more like it...
45 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
SHOCK HORROR: Less than a minute into the second half and we have our first shot on target!
Hidemasa Morita drives at the Costa Rica box and hits a left-footed shot that Navas saves Hollywood style - phew, it only too 45 minutes.
45 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Dear Santa, please can we have a much better second half?
They're back under way...
So who do you think is at least putting a lot of effort in?
Rate the players from that dire first period, here.
HALF-TIME: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Well, not sure how to describe that other than very poor. I want to use other words but (i) this is a blog for all the family, and, (ii) it's Sunday...
Both sides happy to pass the ball around without seemingly interested in creating anything that could be remotely considered to be in the same ballpark as something called a 'chance'.
Costa Rica, you suspect, will be the happier of the two teams.
Let's hope the second half is considerably better.
45 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Ladies and Gentlemen I bring you great news: in a World Cup packed full of LOTS of added time, there is only one minute of it here. HURRAH!!
44 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Still not a lot happening out on the pitch, so here's another nice, overhead, photo to look at.
40 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Forty minutes in and neither keeper has had a shot to save.
On ITV John Hartson calls it a 'bitty' game, Clive Tyldesley speaking for a nation, no, actually make that the world, replies: 'I can think of other words...'
Meanwhile, Germans are possibly scratching their heads wondering how their side lost to this Japan side.
38 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
In fairness to Japan, the Costa Rica backline have been good so far. They've set out their stall and been tough to break down - as I type Duarte gets in a great block from a Japan shot just outside the area.
While the two teams pass the ball around and struggle to create a chance
Here's a pic of the referee - yep, Newcastle's finest, Michael Oliver.
34 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Costa Rica seeing a bit more of the ball at the moment - can they create that elusive chance and make the keeper do something?
Errrrrm, 'sort of' is the answer. The ball comes to Campbell who tries an audacious shot with the outside of his boot. The ball flies high and wide and Gonda in between the sticks is yet to be tested.
31 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Joel Campbell and Anthony Contreras are good players up front for Costa Rica but they are seeing little of the ball. The order of the day is to clearly sit deep and frustrate Japan.
27 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Japan still seeing more of the ball and still being patient and still not really troubling Navas in the Costa Rica goal.
Costa Rica's defence crowding out the Japanese
23 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Nearly 25 minutes in and we are still awaiting a decent chance. To be fair, it's apparently hot (as in more than usual) there so keeping calm and patient is probably the order of the day for now.
20 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Kamada tries to turn the Costa Rica defence but so deep are the Central Americans that it's a tough ball to play - indeed Navas in the Costa Rica goal comes and claims the ball with ease.
It's all Japan at the moment, however, Costa Rica could do with stringing a few passes here if only to take a bit of pressure off.
17 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Japan are being patient at the moment - happy to play 'keep ball' but everything is in front of Costa Rica and it's easy for the Central Americans. It's hard to see how Japan are going to get in behind this deeeeeeeeep line so the east Asians are going to have to try and play their way through.
No great football at the moment
So here's an interesting pic for you to gaze at - a lesser seen view at a football match.
14 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
BREAKING NEWS: There's a bit of goalmouth action!
Japan's Doan does well on the right and gets in a dangerous ball across the six-yard box, but no one can get on the end of it.
12 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
The Central Americans now with the ball, Campbell has the ball in the Japan half, but cannot find the killer ball and is forced to go backwards. Twelve minutes in and nothing that could remotely be described as a chance has been created.
9 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
As expected Japan are seeing more of the ball but neither side has put the opposition goalkeeper under too much pressure at the moment.
Costa Rica look more 'up for it' than they did against Spain when they looked like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights.
Who do you think is having a good game?
Rate the players here.
5 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Costa Rica have a free kick in the Japan half and completely look that gift horse in the mouth - the keeper coming to claim the ball with ease. You feel they need to make the most of set pieces today.
3 mins: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
Expect Japan to have the lion's share of possession something neither of these side's enjoyed in their contrasting first matches.
1 min: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
The Central Americans defend the set piece well and can breathe a sigh of relief. It would have dealt their confidence a big blow - huge understatement - to go behind so early.
1 min: Japan 0-0 Costa Rica
They're under way and Japan start the brighter - winning a corner after just 40 seconds.
The national anthems have been sung
And it's time for kick-off.
It's that hot in Doha
That there may well be a drinks break during both halves. Just when you thought it wasn't possible to have even longer halves in this World Cup....
We're now moments away from the teams walking out onto the pitch
It's hard to see anything other than a Japan win, but this has been a World Cup of shocks and topsy turvy performances.
So there are five changes for Japan
Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu has told his players to forget the win over Germany and has made five changes to his line-up - as if to emphasise his assertion that it counted for nothing.
In come Miki Yamane, Hidemasa Morita, Yuki Soma, Ayase Ueda and Ritsu Doan, who came off the bench to score the equaliser against Germany.
For Costa Rica the 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain hasn't prompted a similar raft of changes - just two changes have been made.
Kendall Waston replaces Carlos Martinez at right-back and Gerson Torres is preferred to Sunderland's Jewison Bennette on the left wing.
Japan fans get in the mood
A win today would all but guarantee Japan a place in the second round.
So who do you think is going to win?
How the teams line up
JAPAN XI TO FACE COSTA RICA: Gonda, Yamane, Itakura, Yoshida, Nagatomo, Endo, Morita, Soma, Kamada, Doan, Ueda.
Substitutes: Kawashima, Taniguchi, Shibasaki, Mitoma, Minamino, Kubo, Junya Ito, Tomiyasu, Tanaka, Asano, Sakai, Machino, Schmidt, Maeda, Hiroki Ito.
COSTA RICA XI TO FACE JAPAN: Navas, Waston, Duarte, Calvo, Oviedo, Fuller, Borges, Tejeda, Torres, Campbell, Contreras.
Subsititutes: Chacon, Vargas, Bennette, Ruiz, Venegas, Salas, Martinez, Alvarado, Aguilera, Lopez, Matarrita, Sequeira, Wilson, Hernandez, Zamora.
Japan told to forget about their win over Germany
If you beat one of the favourites in your opening game, playing with a freedom and sense of fun that seems to get everyone on your side, then it would be all too easy, and forgivable to get slightly carried away. But Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu has told his players their shock 2-1 win over Germany will count for nothing when they face Costa Rica today.
Wednesday's win was one of the most surprising results from the first week and Moriyasu acknowledged that the shock counts as one of the greatest moments in the side's history.
He said: "[Germany] is one of the best powerhouses in the football community, so I consider that this is an achievement of Japan and our players were wonderful, so I'm really proud of them playing like that.
"However, the win doesn't really promise a win for us tomorrow and our opponents are different, so of course we need to play differently, otherwise we won't win. The past achievement needs to be forgotten, as there's no time for complacency and we will focus on [today's] match."
Japan are hoping to make it to the second round for the fourth time in seven appearances in the World Cup. Their best ever finish was ninth, in both 2002 and 2010.
Moriyasu revealed Japan "wants to build its own style by also learning from other countries", and their most influential teachers may well be the country they beat on Wednesday as seven members of the Japan squad play in the Bundesliga, while Ao Tanaka plies his trade in Bundesliga second tier.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, are looking to regroup after Spain handed them a heavy 7-0 defeat in their opener and face an uphill - though not mathematically impossible - battle to advance.
Former Arsenal forward Joel Campbell said: "As long as we have the possibility to progress we will need to leave everything on the pitch.
"It won't be easy of course, but we are very excited because we can still progress to the next phase and we need to fight for that. We will bring our A-game tomorrow."
Saty here for all the pre-match news and action from what could be an entertaining match at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium.