Costa Rica have experienced a World Cup like no other after two games in Qatar. After losing their opening game 7-0 to Spain, they would have been forgiven for seeking an early bird discount on their flights home. But they have now beaten Japan, fresh off their victory over Germany, 1-0 after being dominated for the vast majority of the game.
Games at the 2022 World Cup have fallen into two categories. Unhinged excitement and dreary boredom. Japan had their fair share of the first when they beat Germany. The first half against Costa Rica was a master class in the latter. To call anything the teams conjured a half-chance would have the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid spinning in his precisely measured grave.
Japan enjoyed the vast majority of these fractional opportunities. Ritsu Doan flashed a cross in that evaded his attackers. Daichi Kamada slotted in Miki Yamane down the right, but the overlapping full back fluffed his cross.
Yasuhito Endo had a shot blocked. Kamada bungled his control when receiving a through ball. The first half played out like the Sunday morning stroll it coincided with in the western world. The only fiery moment came when Anthony Contreras was lucky to stay on the pitch for a studs-up tackle on Maya Yoshida. English referee Michael Oliver, the first from his country to be assigned at this tournament, doled out a yellow card.
Substitute Takuma Asano, on at half time, made an instant impact. A deft touch cleared the way for a firm shot, with Keylor Navas making a meal of his dive to punch it away. After 45 minutes, there were signs of a football match penetrating this half-hearted scrimmage. Spurred on by this moment of inspiration, Endo and Asano both had further opportunities.
Endo’s surging run drew a foul from Celso Borges on the edge of the box. The Costa Rica midfielder was booked for his troubles, while Japan got a free kick in a dangerous position just outside the box. Yuki Soma bent his effort just wide, as another chance to break the deadlock came and went.
Japan continued to push their advantage in terms of territory, but chances to sculpt it into goals were far from clear cut. Then, out of nothing, Costa Rica conjured a moment of magic. Keysher Fuller pulled out a supreme piece of individual brilliance, curling a shot into the top corner to throw this game into disarray. Shuichi Gonda got a hand to it and should have kept it out, but the Costa Rican fans won’t care. With their first shot on target at this World Cup, Fuller had put his side into the lead.
Kamada forced a point blank save from Navas as Japan tried to rescue something from this game. Kaoru Mitoma carved some space out wide and caused confusion in the Costa Rican box with a smart cross, but once again the chance went begging.
Japan were not ruthless enough, perhaps thinking after the Spain result that the goal would come. But they can no longer lean on their heroics against Germany, and now have to turn up against the Spaniards to get out of the group. For Costa Rica, this is a dream result. The 7-0 can now be consigned to history as they carry momentum into their final game against a Germany side that may be coming off two defeats after their own meeting with Spain. World Cup? Bloody hell.
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