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The Honda leveler maintains the Japan engine

Japan came from behind twice to take a draw, and while Senegal will feel they should have all three points and full qualification, Aliou Cisse's full-time smiles showed that they are still on the track.

Senegal took the lead in the 11th minute: Youssouf Sabaly took a shot from the left side of the box, Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima tried to clear it, but only reached the knee of Sadio Mane, six yards from the goal, and from there it bounced off the corner of the network. As against Poland, Senegal was the best team, and as against Poland, their goals were defensive errors.

Before the game, Japanese coach Akira Nishino disappointedly focused on the physical aspect of Senegal, commenting that he had asked some of his players to "put 5 kg and grow 5 cm". But in the opening exchanges, the most striking thing was not the physique of the Senegalese players, but the speed of their possession, making the ball roll as if it were rubbing stones. Senegal was patient, attacked at the correct times and in general on the flanks, and seemed to have total control.

And then, just after the half-hour mark, Japan surprisingly matched. Yuto Nagatomo made a diagonal run through the area and looked a little annoyed when Takashi Inui took over possession to the left of the box. But he should not have been so worried, since Inui swept a tremendous shot in the bottom corner, shaving Khadim Ndiaye's nails on the way in.

When the half-time whistle blew, some Senegalese players seemed frustrated. His overall game had deserved more than simply being level, although its completion did not match the rest of his game.

After the break, the game was more cautious. Both sides lost the good opportunities, Mbaye Niang went on after Maya Yoshida had misjudged a header, while at the other end Senegal received a pair of pitches from Yuya Osako: one missed a free header, another missed the ball completely after an intelligent low cross.

They were within inches of conceding again after the hour mark, when Inui measured a fine curling shot that shook the top of the bar and approached. From a position of superiority when they really should have finished the game, Senegal was in danger of losing it.

The missed opportunities became costly for Japan: Senegal regained the lead with 20 minutes remaining, after Niang. He pressed a cross, did not get enough and ran to Moussa Wague. The 19-year-old, running at the far post, succeeded where many of his older colleagues failed and hit the ball on the roof of the net, and the relief abounded.

But once again they lost the lead, when Yuya Osako picked up the ball on the left side of the area after a cross, picked it up from where it was and Keisuke Honda appeared to seal a point.

Ultimately, both sides will probably be relatively happy with this. A victory would have been enough for qualifying now, but they enter the final game of the group stages in good shape to qualify. (© Independent News Service)


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