Japan draws Uruguay 2-2 in Copa America amid more VAR controversy

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Uruguay will be disappointed to have drawn Japan 2-2 in Copa America Group B play in a wild game on Thursday night, but it could have been so much worse had VAR done its job correctly. It was a shame VAR overshadowed much of the action on the field, because the game itself was an exciting, end-to-end affair.

A pair of very poor decisions both tilted in Uruguay’s favor in a game that Japan will feel they should have won. In the first half, a ridiculous penalty was given to Uruguay after VAR somehow advised a review and the referee was convinced by a flailing Edinson Cavani. The second came soon after halftime as Japan should have earned an obvious penalty of their own, but the referee didn’t point to the spot and VAR didn’t even suggest a review.

Japan opened the scoring in the 25th minute with an absolutely vicious counter led by Koji Miyoshi who took a cross-field ball down the right by Gaku Shibasaki and burst down the right one-on-one with Diego Laxalt. The Yokohama attacker took it himself, cutting towards the end line with his right and roofing the shot past Laxalt and beating Fernando Muslera at his near post.

Edinson Cavani went down in the penalty area minutes later, rolling around in pain, and on a check of VAR the referee awarded a penalty as he harshly determined Naomichi Ueda committed a foul with a high boot which Cavani struck on the follow-through of a volley attempt. Luis Suarez stepped up to the spot and buried his penalty, sending goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima the wrong way to equalize.

With the score level, Uruguay began assert itself. Cavani came inches from a wonder goal, firing with his left from well outside the box and striking the corner of the post from miles away. He came close to another with an audacious chip minutes later, but missed just high and over the bar. Japan held the majority of possession before halftime but couldn’t find a good opening.

After the break, a blatant penalty to Japan was not given by the referee or reviewed by the video assistants as Uruguay substitue Giovanni Gonzalez – on for Laxalt – clearly left a leg in the path of Shoya Nakajima who went to ground.

The chances went back and forth as both teams survived breakaways, with Cavani kept out by Kawashima down one end before Myoshi took too long to settle and get a shot off, allowing the Uruguay defense to recover and block the effort. They would eventually grab the lead as Japan broke down the left and a cross from Shoya Nakajima was palmed away by a diving Muslera, but the rebound fell right into the path of Miyoshi who bagged his second with a leap.

The lead would not last long, however, as Jose Gimenez was on hand to head home a Uruguay corner just eight minutes later and bring Uruguay back level. The Atletico Madrid defender delivered a pinpoint header that found the side netting at the far post, leaving Kawashima no chance.

Uruguay began to seize control of the game, but Kawashima came up huge to keep the game level as he came off his line in traffic to stonewall a Uruguay attack after Cavani again went to ground. They struck the crossbar again as Luis Suarez got his head to a Martin Caceres cross but only found the woodwork. The pressure increased as time wound down into the final 10 minutes, and Suarez again missed as he fired a turnaround volley wide left in stoppage time.

The South American side couldn’t find a winner as the final whistle was blown, and Japan deservedly had something to show for its efforts. Uruguay moves to the top of Group C with four points with Chile’s chance to jump them tomorrow, while Japan grabs its first point of the competition but has an uphill battle with a matchup against defending champions Chile in the final group match.