Ralph Hannah –
Japan v Uruguay — Japan earned their first point of this tournament and their second ever in the Copa América after a gutsy display in Porto Alegre. It was certainly a case of old vs new as the invited nation lined up with nine players that hadn’t even been born when Uruguay coach Óscar Tabarez took charge of the side for the first time.
Japan v Uruguay Goals: 1-0 (Koji Miyoshi, 25′), 1-1 (Luis Suarez, 32’), 2-1 (Miyoshi, 59′) 2-2 (Jose Maria Gimenez, 66′)
Similar to their opener against Chile the majority U23s side made a bright start, and unlike the last game they managed to find the net. A sweeping pass from captain Shibasaki opened up the pitch and saw Koji Miyoshi square up Diego Laxalt.
The AC Milan defender was carrying an injury (he would be subbed off straight after the goal) and was easily beaten, but Miyoshi still had a tight angle to aim at as he kept his calm. Muslera conceded his first goal for Uruguay after 409 minutes, in fact, the last time he had conceded was also against Japan in a friendly last October. For the Blue Samurai (playing in white in Porto Alegre) it was just reward for their dynamic and intense start as they constantly looked to keep looking forward and create opportunities.
But the fledgeling side’s commitment to attack was always going to create space for the Uruguayan old guard of Edinson Cavani and Suárez to cause problems. After 32 minutes they were level, a penalty awarded by VAR after the PSG striker had tried to connect with a long ball but had been impeded by the high challenge of Ueda.
Barcelona’s Luis Suárez converted from the spot, his fifth goal in four Copa América games a run dating back to the 2011 semifinals. Soon after Cavani almost got a goal for himself, a thunderous left-footed effort from 30 yards crashed onto the crossbar.
In the second half the early patterns were similar, Uruguay slightly sloppy and Japan energetic and causing problems. There was an early penalty shout for the Asian side, waved away twice by the referee – first on the pitch and then after receiving advice in his ear. The Salto strikeforce threatened soon after, both Cavani and Suárez volleying over the bar within the space of a minute.
It was the Celeste who seemed more likely to get the third goal, a sharp turn by Suárez found his strike partner but the PSG striker didn’t know whether to lift the ball over veteran goalkeeper Kawashima or go for power, in the end, he did neither, and the halfhearted attempt was pushed away. The 15-time champions weren’t keeping the ball well, but they always knew they had the outlet of Suárez and Cavani and could go long, it is a weapon that could be key in the latter stages of this competition in tight games.
Japan were the team to break the stalemate and take the lead for the second time in the match, a rapid counter moved the ball from right to left, and Nakajima’s cross was met by a weak outstretched hand of Muslera. The ball fell to Miyoshi who tucked away his second goal of the night on his first start.
The game was end to end, but Uruguay were mainly attempting from a distance in open play, Suárez again tested the goalkeeper as he flicked up a pass to himself and volleyed from outside the box. From the resulting corner, their seventh of the night, Josema Giménez attacked the near post and glanced in the equalizer.
The charruas may have felt they could have taken all three points, in the 80thminute a Cáceres cross was headed onto the bar by the Pistolero Suárez. But Japan didn’t bow their heads and kept looking to go forward and defended spiritedly until the final minute. A huge result for this experimental side, while for Uruguay a reality check after the dream opener.
Japan v Uruguay – Lineups
Kawashima – Iwata, Ueda, Tomiyasu, Sugioka – Miyoshi, Shibasaki, Itakura, Nakajima – Abe, Okazaki
Manager: Hajime Moriyasu
Muslera – Cáceres, Gimenez, Godín, Laxalt – Nandez, Betancur, Torreira, Lodeiro – Suárez, Cavani
Manager: Óscar Tabarez
Ralph Hannah is Londoner, who has lived in Luque and is now located in Miami, with a keen interest in Paraguayan football history and statistics. A frequent traveler throughout Latin America he attends games throughout the region and has written for a variety of publications and set up the first English-language blog on Paraguayan Football. When not in the Defensores del Chaco he’s looking after his 2 daughters. Follow Ralph on Twitter @paraguayralph.