Costa Rica got their World Cup campaign up and running on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Japan.
Keysher Fuller struck the only goal of the game at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium to move level on three points with both Japan and Group E leaders Spain, who face bottom side Germany in the day’s final game.
In the wake of the game, Luis Fernando Suarez said his Costa Rica team were “still very much alive” at the World Cup after the win blew Group E wide open — and handed a potential lifeline to Germany.
Japan, who shocked four-time champions Germany 2-1 in their opener in Qatar, would have taken a giant stride towards the last 16 with a win.
Instead, they laboured in the first half against a Costa Rica side who were hammered 7-0 by Spain, then defender Keysher Fuller scored in the 81st minute with a deflected strike on the counterattack.
It was Costa Rica’s first shot on target at this World Cup and left them, leaders Spain and Japan all on three points. Spain face Germany later Sunday in a group widely seen as the toughest at the tournament.
“These players did amazing things today. I will not talk about technique or tactics. Today I need to value and appreciate what they have done to get this win,” said Suarez, whose side meets Germany on Thursday.
“We weren’t dead yesterday and now we are still very much alive. Nobody can forget about us yet so we can still dream.
“People thought we were already out but we are in this together.”
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Japan made five changes to the team which stunned Germany as coach Hajime Moriyasu made full use of his 26-man squad.
In temperatures of 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Japan immediately went on the attack and won a corner within 30 seconds.
Suarez made just two changes to the team thumped by Spain, Gerson Torres and 34-year-old centre-back Kendall Waston taking their places in an ageing XI which featured four players from the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals.
But Japan’s early promise melted in the Doha sun and the first shot at goal — a tame effort which sailed high and wide — did not come until 10 minutes from half-time through Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell.
A dreary first half came to a close with “Los Ticos” having had more of the ball but neither side mustering a shot on target.
Moriyasu had seen enough and made a double change at the break, one of them the introduction of Bundesliga-based striker Takuma Asano, who scored the winner against the Germans.
The Blue Samurai were immediately more incisive and midfielder Hidemasa Morita drew the first proper save of the match within seconds of the restart.
It was all Japan as the match ticked into the last 10 minutes in front of 41,000 spectators.
Costa Rica had done nothing for most of the game as an attacking force, but nine minutes from the end of normal time they stole it when Fuller’s shot took a deflection and looped in.
Lack of quality
Moriyasu, whose side face Spain in a daunting last group game, still fancies Japan’s chances of reaching the knockout round.
“Of course Spain will be tough but there is a good chance for us to win. We will be well prepared and will go into the match with confidence,” he said.
Moriyasu denied that his men were tired after their exertions against Germany and defended making so many changes to his line-up.
“In the first half Costa Rica didn’t do great either, both of us struggled to control the game,” he said.
“It was a complicated game and maybe both sides lacked some quality in the first half.”