SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) - Japan upset 10-man Colombia 2-1 in a dramatic match on Tuesday to become the first Asian side to beat South American opponents at the World Cup.
Asian teams had managed three draws in 17 matches against South American sides but the four-times Asian champions made their extra man count after Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez became the first player to get a red card in Russia.
His sending-off in the third minute, for a deliberate handball, was the second fastest in World Cup history after Uruguay’s Jose Batista was dismissed after 55 seconds against Scotland in 1986.
Shinji Kagawa scored from the resulting penalty to give Japan the lead in the Group H match.
Juan Quintero’s clever low free kick in the 39th minute gave Colombia the equaliser but Yuya Osako leapt above his marker to head a corner into the net for Japan’s 73rd-minute winner.
“To lose one player in the three minutes to lose such a crucial player, is not an easy thing,” Colombia’s Argentine coach Jose Pekerman told reporters.
With Colombia ranked 16th in the world and Japan 61st, the South Americans were expected to win.
It was also sweet revenge for Japan, who were thumped 4-1 by the same opponents in Brazil 2014, but they wasted plenty of chances to kill the game off earlier. Kagawa and Osako went close in the first half but failed to increase their lead.
“I told them at halftime to keep moving, get the advantage in positioning,” Japan coach Akira Nishino said.
“It was good we could deprive the front players of their stamina. It’s the result that counts. Luck is important but it’s not going to do the job.”
With Japan dominating the midfield with their superior numbers, Pekerman opted to sacrifice Juan Cuadrado around the half hour mark to send on defensive midfielder Wilmar Barrios.
That allowed Colombia a foothold in the match and their all-time leading scorer and captain Radamel Falcao came more into the game.
Falcao, making his World Cup debut after missing the last tournament in Brazil due to injury, showed his hunger when he stretched full length to get his foot to an overhead cross but did not have the power to beat the goalkeeper.
Genki Haraguchi’s foul on Falcao earned Colombia a foul on the edge of the box and Quintero fired a low free kick under the leaping wall. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and failed to stop the ball from crossing the line.
Colombia continued to trouble Brazil with quick attacking movements but as the minutes passed they lost stamina and playing 90 minutes with a man down proved too big a mountain to climb.
In a last throw of the dice, Pekerman introduced James Rodriguez, who did not start due to a calf problem, in the 59th minute but the Golden Boot winner in Brazil was unable to change the course of the match.
“Without doubt we were expecting something different, we were hoping to start with a victory,” Pekerman said.
“It’s unfortunate for the people of Colombia who came here with high hopes. This is obviously going to leave us with a bitter memory.”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Ed Osmond