SAMARA/SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) - Japan may have benefited from an early penalty and red card in their 2-1 win over Colombia on Tuesday, but coach Akira Nishino praised his players ability to adapt and secure the victory.
Colombian midfielder Carlos Sanchez’s handball in the area after three minutes led to his dismissal – the first red card of this World Cup – and Shinji Kagawa’s resulting penalty gave Japan the lead.
The South Americans hauled themselves back into the game through Juan Quintero’s clever low free kick in the 39th minute. However, Japan were able to seize victory through Yuya Osako’s 73rd-minute winner.
After profiting from Colombia’s early setback, Nishino stressed to his players the importance of keeping up the pressure on the tiring opposition.
“From the start I thought we could be very aggressive and of course we had the advantage of more players,” Nishino told reporters.
“However, I said at halftime it is not just the number of players... keep moving, get the positioning advantage to deprive the Colombian front players of their stamina.
“In the second half we could control the game and ball better and that is why we got the second goal. The players were aggressive and positive from the start and that worked very well for us.”
Colombia, billed as one of the most attractive sides in the tournament, were firm favourites going into the match.
Japan had a troubled run-up to Russia, with Nishino only taking over the helm in April, replacing the sacked Vahid Halilhodzic. Speaking the day before the match, he also said Monday’s earthquake in Osaka had affected several players with families there.
Part of Nishino’s remit since taking charge has been to instil an attacking brand of pressing football in his team.
He was certainly pleased with the reaction of his midfield players in Saransk.
“We did not want to be always defensive,” he said.
“I tried to man the midfield with players who can take the initiative. We aimed high coming into this game and get the result.
“We need to be able to play to our full, rather than be reactive to the opposition strengths. If we are always defensive, the chance of victory is going to recede and we want to pursue victory.”
Japan’s win is the first by an Asian team over a nation from South America in the history of the World Cup, yet Nishino was not getting carried away with the performance.
“It is just one win, three points, therefore we need to go to the next venue, so we will save our celebration,” he said.
Japan’s next match is against Senegal on Sunday.
Reporting by Jack Tarrant and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Christian Radnedge