Yekaterinburg, Russia: Midfielder Keisuke Honda came off the bench to salvage a 2-2 draw for Japan against Senegal, as both teams were locked at the top of Group H following an entertaining encounter at the Ekaterinburg Arena on Sunday.
Veteran Honda, 32, who became the first Japanese player to score in three different World Cups, replaced Shinji Kagawa in the second half with his team down 2-1 and fired the equaliser in 12 minutes from time after a bad error by Senegal goalkeeper Khadim N’Diaye.
Senegal thought they had won the match as Moussa Wague drilled the ball into the top of the net on 71 minutes to make it 2-1 after Sadio Mane’s fortuitous first-half opener was canceled out by Takashi Inui’s curling shot. But Honda ensured things ended level and deservedly so.
The result leaves both teams, who beat Colombia and Poland respectively in their opening matches, on four points from two games and within reach of a spot in the last 16.
Senegal began the match strongly and their robust defending neutralized any early threat that the Japanese front line posed, allowing their own attackers to push up in numbers.
The Africans went ahead in the 11th minute, although there was an element of luck to their goal.
A poor headed clearance landed right at Youssouf Sabaly’s feet and although goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima managed to parry the defender’s stinging shot from the left, the ball rebounded into the net off Mane’s knee.
Forward Ismaila Sarr, who troubled Japan from the start with his pace and power on the right wing, was unlucky not to double Senegal’s lead on 21 minutes as he volleyed into Kawashima’s hands from close range.
Japan slowly regained composure and responded with a well-taken goal with their only shot on target in the opening period to level the score at 1-1.
Yuto Nagatomo controlled a long pass with a deft first touch before rolling the ball into the path of Inui, who cut in from the left and fired a curling shot past a diving N’Diaye.
Senegal appeared to step off the gas towards the end of the half, and the effects were still evident after the restart, as they resorted to long-range efforts that failed to test the Japanese goalkeeper.
They nearly paid for allowing their opponents to run at them, as Yuya Osako narrowly failed to connect with a ball across the box on the hour mark before Inui’s powerful shot struck the bar with the goalkeeper beaten.
Wague appeared to have ended hopes of a Japanese comeback as he drilled Sabaly’s low cross into the top of the net to send Senegal’s supporters into raptures.
But the Asians were not done and hit back again through Honda, who tapped in into an empty net after goalkeeper N’Diaye stepped off his line and failed to punch the ball away.