Eiji Kawashima

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Stoppage time winner completes Belgium comeback

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Nacer Chadli‘s goal seconds before the final whistle led Belgium to a thrilling 3-2 comeback win over Japan on Monday at the World Cup in Rostov-on-Don.

Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini also scored for Belgium, who will meet Brazil in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui helped Japan to a 2-0 lead.

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Romelu Lukaku looked strong out of the gates, creating enough space to earn a pair of corner kicks in the first 20 minutes.

One of the few balls Japan got to the doorstep was bungled between the legs of Thibaut Courtois, but he collected it before any of the Samurai Blue could pounce on it.

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Japan opened the second half with a history-making vigor, scoring twice inside of five minutes.

A misplay from Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen allowed Haraguchi to dribble on goal, and he acted like a cutback to his left foot was coming before pushing a right footed shot beyond the reach of Courtois.

Then it was Inui’s turn, and what he did was nothing short of gorgeous.

Given some room to maneuver, Shinji Kagawa and Inui worked outside the 18 before the latter unleashed an arrow toward goal. Courtois could not reach it.

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Lukaku just missed turning a header inside the far post in the 62nd minute as Belgium tried to get on the board and put pressure on the upstart Samurai Blue.

Vertonghen got a bit of redemption in the 70th minute, when his headed cross back across goal looped over the keeper and into the goal. A pass? Most likely. A goal? Certainly.

Fellaini’s goal, five minutes after entering the game, made it 2-2. It was a trademark powerful header from the Manchester United man.

Eiji Kawashima made a pair of fantastic saves for Japan as the game moved toward the final whistle of regulation, and Courtois answered with a beauty of his own in the 90th.

The Red Devils completed the comeback in the fourth minute of stoppage time, cued up by Kevin De Bruyne. Thomas Meunier cut a square ball through the 18 that Lukaku dummied for Chadli to slide home.

VIDEO: Neymar scores four goals as Brazil unhinge Japan in friendly

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It was a comprehensive day for the Brazilian team, which is picking up the pieces after failure at their own World Cup this summer.

There’s years to go before redemption can be fully realized, but the first steps are being taken in leaps, beating Japan in a friendly 4-0 in Singapore.

While feasting on a Japanese side in even more of a state of flux, the Brazilians peppered Eiji Kawashima’s goal with seven shots on target compared to Japan’s one.

Four of those seven shots went in – all off the foot of Neymar – and the most recent World Cup hosts finished off a near-perfect international break beating Argentina and Japan by a combined 6-0.

Diego Tardelli, who scored a brace against the Argentinians, started up front but it was 22-year-old Neymar who stole the show.

He picked up a first in just 18 minutes when Tardelli sliced a ball through Japan’s defense with ease, and Neymar beat both Kawashima and his tracking defender to slide home into the empty net for a 1-0 lead.

The second came from a superb through-ball from Philippe Coutinho to beat a poorly executed offsides trap, and Neymar was through on goal to easily slide past Kawashima just three minutes after halftime.

Neymar completed his hat trick with 13 minutes to go in the match, when a stinging shot by Coutinho from distance was parried by a diving Kawashima, but the rebound fell right to Neymar’s feet and he finished into the open net.

The fourth and final score came to Neymar off the foot of Kaka, who came into the match in the 76th minute and delivered a brilliant chipped cross to the far post.  The 22-year-old soared into the frame and powerfully headed home for the 4-0 lead just four minutes after picking up his third.

The four goals bring him to 40 for his country in 58 matches, and at such a young age he is already the fifth-leading goalscorer in Brazil’s illustrious history.  There’s plenty of reach Pele’s mark of 77, but already more than halfway there, it’s without question that he could reach that mark and eclipse it with ease should he continue this pace.

Dominant Rodriguez leads Colombia past Japan, top of Group C

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It was supposed to be a day of rest for James Rodríguez, but after Colombia struggled for 45 minutes against Japan, the 22-year-old was called on to preserve his team’s spot atop Group C. Over the next 45 minutes, a dominant performance that produced one goal and two assists blew open a 1-1 game, sealing Colombia’s perfect group stage with a 4-1 win over Japan.

The Colombians broke through early in the first half with a penalty converted by Juan Cuadrado, but after 45 minutes of control by Japan, the Samurai Blue crafted a stoppage time equalizer, with a Shinji Okazaki header sending the teams into halftime tied 1-1.

After being brought on at halftime, Rodríguez set up Jackson Martínez in the 55th minute for the go-ahead goal, with the Monaco star’s through ball into the right of the area in the 82nd minute allowing his teammate to double Colombia’s lead in the 82nd. Seven minutes later, Rodríguez finished from close range to close the scoring, sending the Cafeteros through with a lopsided score.

With the win, Colombia becomes the second team this tournament to complete a perfect group stage. That honor earns them a Saturday meeting with Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro. Japan, after making the final 16 four years ago, leaves Brazil 2014 with one point in three games, finishing last in their group.

[ RESULTS: Greece shocks Ivory Coast | Costa Rica clinches Group D | Uruguay eliminates Italy ]
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Initial pressure toward the underdogs’ goal gave way to Japan control, something that generated 63 percent possession and 14-3 edge in shots by halftime. Colombia, however, was able to get on the scoresheet first thanks to a Yasuyuki Konno foul in Japan’s penalty area, allowing Cuadrado to put the group leaders in front in the 17th minute.

That edge looked set to last into intermission before Keisuke Honda, in the first minute of injury time, cut in from Japan’s right to chip a ball toward the penalty area. Curling around a defender, Okazaki headed the ball inside David Opina’s left upright, rewarding the Samurai Blue with a  1-1 scoreline at halftime.

Coming out of intermission, Colombia head coach José Pekerman, who made eight changes to his starting XI for the day’s game, brought on Rodriguez and Carlos Carbonero in an attempt to gain a handle on the game. Rodríguez’s inclusion quickly paid off. Having already taken over the game in the half’s first 10 minutes, the Colombian attacker drew three defenders to him at the top of area in the 55th minute. Flicking to his left for Martínez, the Monaco star set up his team’s go-ahead score, with his teammate finishing into the right of goal to make it 2-1.

While Japan pushed for a response, Colombia maintained their newfound threat going forward. In addition to controlling more possession, the Cafeteros had new life on the counter attack. In the 82nd minute, that threat came good when Rodríguez set up Martínez for Colombia’s insurance – a left-footed finish from the right of goal to make it 3-1.

In the 89th minute, a dominant half from Rodríguez ended with the young star’s name on the scoresheet. After sending Japanese defender Maya Yoshida spinning to ground just outside the six-yard box, Rodríguez chipped Eiji Kawashima for the game’s final goal, capping the tournaments best individual performance.

With the win, Colombia becomes the second team to finish their 2014 group stage with a 3-0-0 record. On Saturday, the Cafeteros will put that mark on the line when they face South American champions Uruguay in the tournament’s second round.

Lineups

Japan: Kawashima; Uchida, Yoshida, Konno, Nagatomo; Hasebe, Aoyama (Yaamguchi 62′); Okubo, Honda, Kagawa (Kiyotake 85′); Okazaki (Kakatani 69′)

Goals: Okazaki 45+1′

Colombia: Ospina (Mondragón 85′); Arias, Valdes, Balanta, Armero; Cuadrado (Carbonero 46′), Guarin, Mejia, Quintero (Rodríguez 46′); Ramos, Martínez

Goals: Cuadrado 17′, Martínez 55′, 82′, Rodríguez 89′

At halftime: Keisuke Honda blast has Japan up 1-0 on Ivory Coast (FOLLOW LIVE)

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Story of the half: The Ivory Coast has had the ball, but Japan’s had the chances. Waiting to pressure until play moves into their half, Japan’s been able to couple the Ivorians’ poor execution with key stops and timely fouls, leaving Eiji Kawashima relatively untested in goal.

At the other end, a 15th minute blast by Keisuke Honda inside Boubacar Barry’s right post has proved the difference, but one another chance minutes showed Japan has the execution its opponents lacked. Though the Les Elephants would finish the half with more possession (60) and shots (12-3), Alberto Zaccheroni’s team played most of the first 45 minutes on their terms.

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Goals:

15′ – Honda – After allowing the Ivorians to control the ball over the first quarter-hour, quick play from a deep throw-in allowed Japan to generate the game’s first good chance. Turning on a ball rolled in from the flank by Yuto Nagatomo, Honda evaded Yaya Touré and blasted a shot at Barry from near 12 yards out. The Ivorian keeper had almost no time to react before the ball had flexed the back of the next, leaving Japan up, 1-0.

Other key moments:

35′ – Arthur Boka’s blast – For most of the first half, the story was the same. Japan would drop back, engage at about 45 yards out, and see that pressure produce a turnover. Near the half-hour mark, however, that started to change, and off a 35th minute corner kick, the Ivorians finally had their first shot on target. With a heavy left-footed blast from 31 yards out, Boka forced Kawashima to parry the shot just to the right of goal. Had Wilfried Bony’s position not sent the assistant’s flag up, the Ivorians may have had their equalizer.

39′ – Touré breaks through – As the half went on, Touré seemed to figure out how to make his mark. After the Ivorians pushed Japan into their penalty area, Touré would pick his spots to jump into the box, something that nearly produced a chance for Gervinho in the 39th minute. After carrying the ball to the left of goal, Touré’s layoff allowed the Roma attacker to wind up behind a shot. Only a Japan block kept Kawashima from getting involved.

Key players:

  • Yaya Touré, Ivory Coast – This feels like a game Touré would play with Manchester City. Japan is intent on keeping play in front of them. It’s up to Touré to find and exploit a weakness.
  • Eiji Kawashima, Japan – Kawashima was only called on to make two saves in the first half, but at this rate, the second half will prove more difficult. The Ivorians outshot Japan 12-3 over the first 45 minutes. Kawashima should be prepared for more of those shots to find goal.

Numbers to know:

  • Corners: Japan 4, Ivory Coast 3 – They may not have much of the ball, but when they has it, Japan found ways to be dangerous.
  • Blocked shots: Japan 5, Ivory Coast 1 – Instead of blasting away, the Ivorians are going to have to probe.

Question(s) for the second half:

  • When will Didier Drogba come on? This isn’t just about the Ivory Coast’s most famous player. If this keeps up, Les Elephants will need a direct option.