Colombia made sure the traditional domination of South American sides over their Asian rivals in the FIFA Confederations Cup continued by beating Japan 1-0 on 22 June at Stade Geoffroy Guichard in Saint Etienne. Giovanni Hernández’s winner knocked the Japanese out of the competition and sent the cafetero through to the semi-finals, where they will face the winners of Group B.
Colombia’s inferior goal difference meant they had to win to progress. Japan, meanwhile, could be content with a draw, and those differing ambitions were obvious in the opening exchanges. The South Americans were more eager to get forward and probe for openings, and with Giovanni Hernández typically pulling the strings, Francisco Maturana’s boys set up camp in the Japanese half. Jorge López nearly gave them the perfect start, blasting a long-range effort just wide (1’). Japan gradually came into things, with Nobuhisa Yamada and Hidetoshi Nakata sparking things in midfield. Their attempts to set the front men free were foiled though, more often than not by Mario Yepes and José Mera at the heart of the Colombian defence. Unable to get round the South American back line, the Japanese tried from long range; Alessandro Santos’ free-kick was deflected but never troubled Oscar Córdoba (19’).
Víctor Aristizábal was next to shine; the Colombian striker tried his luck with a delicate chip from the edge of the box. Narazaki was well beaten, but unfortunately for the Cruzeiro man the ball sailed just over the bar (29'). Japan were beginning to get on top towards the end of the half; Okubo showed quick thinking to get the ball clear of his feet in the box, but he sliced wide (43').
Córdoba had to be vigilant to keep out Mitsuo Ogasawara (46’) as Japan were first to impress in the second period. For a while the Blues looked destined to open the scoring - and they would have done too, had Takahara’s back post header been a few inches to the right instead of onto the post (50’). Colombia were not be intimidated; their second half performances have been far better than their first half showings so far in the tournament, and so it proved again tonight. Substitute Arnulfo Valentierra pinched the ball on the edge of the box and served up a peach of a pass for Hernández, whose low left-foot finish sent Narazaki the wrong way (0:1, 68’).
Japan created one last chance; it fell to the unfortunate Takahara who hit a sweet shot just past the post with Córdoba nowhere. Determined to hold onto their precious lead, the Colombians then set up a fortress around their box and invited the Asians to swing balls in and take pot shots from outside. The Japanese duly obliged, but the South American defence held firm, and the co-hosts of last year’s FIFA World Cup™ were out. They have impressed again with their positive attitude, free-flowing football and outstanding technical ability. Colombia, meanwhile, have already proved their doubters wrong, and played some great stuff in patches. If they manage to extend those parts into longer periods in both halves of their semi-final, they just might cause an upset.