Japan FIFA World Cup

Honda, Inui goals spare Japan blushes in Senegal draw

Japan drew 2-2 against Senegal on Monday evening in their second 2018 FIFA World Cup group stage encounter, with Takashi Inui and Keisuke Honda scoring to erase deficits in each half.

Despite some reports indicating a start for star midfielder Keisuke Honda, head coach Akira Nishino submitted a lineup unchanged from last week’s famous 2-1 win over favored Colombia. Aliou Cisse’s Senegal were mostly unchanged as well from their 2-1 victory against Poland, with Europe-based stars such as Liverpool’s Sadio Mane filling their starting eleven.

The African side pressed early and often to create several chances in the opening period, and it was they drew first blood in the 11th minute when a shocking Eiji Kawashima clearance rebounded off Mane’s knee and into the goal.

But while Japan had few chances in the first half they were sure to take advantage of them as defender Yuto Nagatomo set up the ball inside the penalty area for Inui, who redeemed himself for several missed chances against Colombia with a fine strike into the far side of the net.

The balance of the match swung toward Japan in the second half as they gradually asserted their speed and agility, with Senegal increasingly relying on heavier physical contact. Several chances came and went for the Samurai Blue: Yuya Osako wasted a pair of prime chances in front of the goal, while a long-range shot by Takashi Inui narrowly struck the top of the crossbar.

Senegal retook the lead in the 71st minute after Niang superbly deflected a cross to an unmarked Moussa Wague, who buried his first senior goal into the corner of the net. The scene forced a change in Japan’s strategy as Keisuke Honda came on for Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki relieved Haraguchi.

Nishino’s substitutions paid off in spades, as Honda took advantage of goalkeeper Khadim N’Diaye’s tumble during a clearance to score in his third World Cup, the first Japanese player to accomplish the feat.

Neither team was able to produce a third goal after 94 minutes, and the result ensured that Japan’s knockout tournament fate will not be determined until Thursday when they will face Poland in Volgograd.

“It would have been bad if I’d missed (the equalizer),” Honda said after the match. “I played better than I did against Colombia. We could be knocked out of the competition if we lose (our next match), so to be honest I wanted to win today.

“We have to analyze Poland thoroughly and beat them.”

Honda’s dissatisfaction with the single point was echoed by his teammates, including fellow goal-scorer Inui.

“(My goal) came from a situation in which I excel and I’m glad I was able to score (like I did against Paraguay),” the newly-minted Real Betis signing reflected. “But it was a match we could have won if I’d scored a second goal. I also let my mark get away on Senegal’s second goal and that’s something I can’t do again.”