Japan have produced yet another remarkable comeback – the latest to add to a long list at Thailand 2012 – to draw 5-5 with Portugal and boost their hopes of a place in the last 16. The Portuguese had looked set to claim a place in the knockout phase with a game to spare but both teams will now go into their final Group C matches with their fate in the balance.
The European side started superbly and Joao Matos got the ball rolling after just 49 seconds with the fastest goal of the tournament thus far, rounding off an excellent move started by a cheeky back-heel from Ricardinho. Stunned by that early blow, Japan found themselves two down 59 seconds later, Ricardinho turning goalscorer on this occasion to head home at the back from an intelligent looping cross by his captain, Arnaldo.
Cardinal then increased Portugal’s lead, cutting inside to beat the keeper low to his right, before Japan pulled one back through a superb Kaoru Morioka strike into the top right-hand corner. However, any hopes the Asian champions had of claiming anything from this match looked to have disappeared when Cardinal and Ricardinho both completed their braces before half-time.
But this has been the tournament of the comeback and we should have known better than to count Japan out. The first glimmer of hope was provided in the final minute of the half, when Shota Hosi pounced on a slack pass from Cardinal to reduce the deficit, shooting through the legs of Joao Benedito.
The Japanese then went for broke with eight minutes remaining and, unlike for Paraguay in the day’s earlier game, it paid immediate dividends. First, Waturu Kitihara found space to place a left-foot shot into the bottom corner and then Morioka sparked panic in their Portuguese ranks by doubling his tally from close range. Then, with four minutes remaining, another amazing comeback was completed when Katsutoshi Henmi scored the equaliser, rifling a low shot that flew in at Benedito’s right-hand post.
“We went through a bad spell and the consequence is this result. We played a great first half and then we didn’t deal well with the pressure,” Jorge Braz, Portugal coach.
“We were nervous and felt a lot of responsibility before this match. People in Japan were saying that we could make history by winning this game or getting a draw. The way we played in the second half was the real Japan,” Miguel Rodrigo, Japan coach.