Despite having arrived in Brazil as complete outsiders, Japan are through to the semi-finals of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2005. Anything but makeweights, they dominated Uruguay (3-4) from start to finish and France ought to take note before the two side's meet on Saturday for a place in the final.
"I can't explain this defeat," confessed Uruguay's shell-shocked coach Gustavo Sánchez after the match. "All of a sudden we looked nervous even though we were leading 3-0 with six minutes to go. We have absolutely no excuses."
It was always going to be a fascinating clash between two of the surprise packages of the first round, and so it proved when Ricar opened the scoring from a free-kick in the very first minute (1-0). The pace of the game was frighteningly quick as the action passed from one end to the other, but at the close of the first period the scoreline remained the same.
For all their domination, Japan tried in vain to find their way through a solid Uruguayan defence, and the South Americans appeared to have luck on their side as well as an excellent goalkeeper when Kawaharazuka's header came straight back off Diego's right post. The longer the game wore on, the heavier Japanese legs started to look.
With 12 minutes left to turn things around, Japanese coach Rui Ramos urged his players on to give every last ounce of effort. But in the first minute of the final period, Ricar doubled the deficit with his second goal of the game (2-0). German struck to give Uruguay an even more comfortable lead (3-0), however Japan stubbornly refused to throw in the towel and hit back through Kawaharazuka and Makino (3-2).
The game was perfectly poised for a nail-biting final five minutes and, waiting for Brazil's quarter-final later in the evening, the large local crowd warmed up their voices by rallying behind Japan's cause. 10,000 people are capable of making a lot of noise, and they did precisely that when Toma buried the equaliser (3-3). There were just three minutes left to play, but nothing looked like stopping the Japanese now and Kawaharazuka got himself on the end of goalkeeper Kato's throw-out to send a looping header over the helpless Diego (4-3). His goal completed an incredible comeback, and the last few seconds were deafening as the crowd lapped up the drama.
Rui Ramos could hardly have been more overwhelmed at the final whistle: "Tonight we go down in history. Uruguay are undoubtedly a better team than us, potential finalists even, but with the public behind us like that we couldn't give up - we had to keep fighting right to the end."
Referees: Christian Hauben (BEL), Pinto Correia (POR), Evaldo Wellington (BRA).