Costa Rica put a dent in Japan’s hopes of reaching the World Cup last 16 as it recovered from its hammering by Spain to claim a surprise 1-0 victory in Group E on Sunday.
Keysher Fuller’s 81st-minute effort, Costa Rica’s first shot on target in a dreary game, stunned the Japanese fans in the stadium and left the group wide open.
Japan’s historic victory over Germany in its opener coupled with Costa Rica’s 7-0 drubbing by Spain cleared the way for Japan to reach the last 16 with a game to spare.
But a much-changed line-up failed to spark, and its hopes of reaching the knockout stage for the fourth time are now left hanging in the balance with its final game against Spain.
Costa Rica, written off before kickoff, is now level on three points with Japan and has a chance to reach the last 16.
Heavyweights Spain and Germany play later.
A first-half of mind-numbing tedium even tested the patience of the Japanese fans massed in their blue shirts at one end of the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.
Apart from a two-minute burst at the start of the game by Japan, the rest of the opening half was played at a snail’s pace.
For Costa Rica, the lack of goalmouth action was probably most welcome seeing as it conceded three times in the opening half an hour against Spain.
Both goalkeepers were redundant, and the only incidents that could pass as goalmouth action was a cross by Japan’s Ritsu Doan that flashed across the goal and a scooped shot high over the crossbar by Costa Rica forward Joel Campbell.
Japan’s coach Hajime Moriyasu took off defender Yuto Nagatomo at halftime and replaced him with attacker Takuma Asano who was surprisingly left on the bench despite scoring the winner against Germany.
Immediately after the break Japan looked more threatening with Hidemasa Morita finally testing Keylor Navas with a stinging drive the Costa Rica keeper turned away.
Kicking towards their fans, Japan began to seize control, and Moriyasu made another attacking change with midfielder Kaoru Mitoma coming on for right-back Miki Yamane.
Japan was camped in Costa Rica’s half but and it seemed only a matter of time before their pressure would pay off, but in a rare break, Japan failed to clear, and Fuller curled a shot that keeper Shuichi Gonda could not keep out.
Japan, which came into the game riding on a high of beating Germany in its opener, dominated vast swathes of the game and should have taken the lead, on multiple occasions, if not for some resolute defending from the Costa Rican side.
Costa Rica held on and waited for its moment to strike, which came in the 81st minute, when Japan failed to clear its line properly. Midfielders Yeltsin Tejeda pounced on a loose ball and set up wing-back Keysher Fuller, whose left-footed shot took a deflection off a Japan defender to fly beyond keeper Shuichi Gonda.
Keylor Navas, who was rock-solid under the bar, and Costa Rica survived a few nervy moments before securing its first points of the tournament.
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