Costa Rica started their World Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over Japan at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.
Luis Fernando Suarez’s men prioritized defensive solidity after their 7-0 humiliation at the hands of Spain in the opening game and kept their opponents at bay throughout as early afternoon temperatures topped 30 degrees.
But Costa Rica made Japan pay for their failure to capitalize on their attacking superiority as Keysher Fuller curled a shot past Shuichi Gonda (81) with his team’s first shot on target of the tournament.
The late winners blew Group E wide open, with Costa Rica, Japan and Spain – who face Germany later tonight – all on three points at this stage.
How Los Ticos triumphed against the odds
Japan looked buoyed by their shock win over Germany last time out and flew out of the blocks in a bid to put Costa Rica immediately on the back foot. They soon had control of the pace of the match.
Japan’s Ritsu Doan sent a teasing ball across the box from the right that needed just one touch to find the back of the net, while at the other end ex-Arsenal striker Joel Campbell’s improvised shot cleared the crossbar by a few yards.
Given the lack of attacking attempts, the organization of the Costa Rican defense – orchestrated by Kendall Waston – was perhaps the highlight of a poor first half.
Hajime Moriyasu changed his side’s shape at half-time, moving to a back three in a bid to foster creativity, and it initially worked, with half-time deficit Takuma Asano forcing a save with his first touch.
The Japanese again began to dominate, but the Sunday League-like feel of the game could not be shaken. Their passes became less accurate, while crosses and long balls were often wildly overcooked and wasted.
And then came the decisive moment. Hidemasa Morita gave the ball away cheaply, with Yeltsin Tejeda setting Fuller up to curl over Gonda. The keeper was positioned well off his line and although he got his fingertips to the shot, he was unable to stop it going into the net.
Keylor Navas then pulled off two saves of his own in the dying embers, first from Daichi Kamada and then Asano, but luck was not on Japan’s side.
Carney: It’s tournament football
Sky Sports’ Karen Carney on ITV:
“To lose 7-0 is humiliating. The only way you can respond to that is to perform. They did the basics well. It’s not always about being pretty and doing things with style.
“It’s about getting the job done and they’ve kept a clean sheet. They’ve taken their one moment and that’s tournament football.”
Costa Rica’s historic victory – Opta Stats
- Costa Rica have beaten Japan for the first time in all competitions (D1 L3), while they have won both of their meetings against Asian teams at the World Cup (also beating China 2-0 in 2002)
- Costa Rica became the first team to concede seven goals in a game, then win their next match at the World Cup since Paraguay in 1958 (lost 7–3 against France, won 3–2 against Scotland).
- Keysher Fuller scored from Costa Rica’s very first shot on target at this World Cup, after more than 184 minutes of football (including extra time).
- At 30y 318d, Costa Rica’s starting XI against Tunisia was the oldest at this World Cup so far.