Senegal and Japan played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in Group H action on Sunday.
The draw doesn’t confirm either sides place in the knockout round but places them atop the group with four points heading into the final game day. After the highs of beating Poland and Colombia, a draw for these teams has to be deflating as a spot in the knockout rounds was up for grabs.
This game was high pace and open as both sides attacked and moved the ball up the pitch with fervor. Senegal mounted pressure on Japan early on and were rewarded with the game opener through Sadio Mane in the 11th minutes.
Eiji Kawashima made a massive blunder as he failed to catch a comfortable shot taken directly at him. The ball spilled forward off his chest to a fortunate Mane who was there to poke the ball into the net with his shin.
Kawashima‘s error would be forgiven later in the half when Japan equalized on a beauty of a goal by Takashi Inui. Yuto Nagatomo was a nightmare for Senegal down the wing all match, offering extra width for Japan.
He got past two Senegalese defenders before laying the ball off for Inui. He took one touch inwards before unleashing a curling effort past Khadim N’Diaye. It was a picture-perfect shot that he keeper had no chance of saving it.
The goal for Japan was much needed as it was all Senegal in the first half. Samurai Blue had plenty of possession but weren’t threatening on the ball and couldn’t find their way into dangerous areas until Inui’s moment of brilliance.
Senegal nearly went into the break ahead, but M’Baye Niang couldn’t capitalize. Badou Ndiaye had the striker on goal with his through ball, but Niang’s half volley was too close to the keeper as he pushed the shot wide.
Yuya Osako was the hero last time out for Japan, scoring the game winner in their 2-1 victory over Colombia. But the Japanese striker squandered a golden opportunity to put his side up on the hour.
Gaku Shibasaki sent in a cross that went across the face of goal only six yards out, and Osako couldn’t manage to get any contact as Shibasaki’s cross eluded everyone.
Inui almost doubled the lead with another curling shot, but instead watched his effort bounce off the crossbar. Senegal ended up on the back foot for most of the second half but took the lead once more late on.
Niang found himself in space in the penalty and attempted a backheel flick. He couldn’t get the flick right, but fortunately the ball fell for Moussa Wague who came running onto the ball before smashing past Kawashima.
The lead wouldn’t last long as Samurai Blue introduces their super sub, Keisuke Honda. After being on the pitch for only three minutes, Honda brought Japan level. There was chaos in the box as both sides scrambled for the ball, with N’Diaye clashing with friendly defender Salif Sané.
Inui got the ball on the side of the net and squared the ball for Shinji Okazaki. He wasn’t able to get on the end of the ball, but Honda was there and, with no keeper in sight, finished the move to draw level.
Both sides surged forward looking for the goal that would give their country all three points. But the whistle blew with the score even, meaning Japan and Senegal will need results against Poland and Colombia respectively to advance to the knockouts.
It was a thrilling game as both teams looked like they could score the game winner. in the end, it was a missed opportunity for both sides who would have hoped to qualify today ahead of a more difficult matchup in the final game of the group.