Keisuke Honda became the first player to score in three World Cups for Japan as his 78th minute equalizer gave Samurai Blue a 2-2 draw versus Senegal on Sunday in Ekaterinburg to keep the two sides level atop Group H.
Takashi Inui, who set up Honda’s goal, had one of his own for Japan, which twice fought back from a goal down in an entertaining match in what has been a topsy-turvy yet finely balanced group that includes Poland and Colombia.
The result leaves Japan and Senegal level on four points and tied on goal difference and goals scored. It also means that if there is a loser in the Poland-Colombia match, it would be eliminated from advancing to the knockout round.
Sadio Mane and Moussa Wague scored on either side of halftime for Senegal, which remains unbeaten all-time in World Cup group play with two wins and three draws. The Lions of Teranga posted a win and two draws in their maiden appearance in 2002, highlighted by their upset of defending champion France, and a draw versus Colombia would again see them through to the round of 16.
Senegal started the brighter team and was gifted Mane’s goal in the 11th minute. Wague launched a cross from the right for the far post that Japan defender Genki Haraguchi failed to clear over the line with his header. It fell to Youssouf Sabaly, who ripped a right-footed shot from 12 yards that Eiji Kawashima punched rather than tried to catch.
The decision proved costly as he parried it right off Mane’s knee and into the net as the Liverpool striker picked up his first World Cup goal. Sane then proved his worth on the other end of the pitch, blocking a shot from Makato Hasebe on the quarter-hour.
Senegal foiled a short corner and tore away on the counter looking to double its lead in the 22nd minute. Wague sent a cross into the box from the right, but Ismalia Sarr’s volley from 10 yards was well-saved by Kawashima as he dove to his left.
Japan drew level on 34 minutes through Inui. Left back Yuto Nagatomo beat an offsides trap with a well-timed run down and deadened a pass over the top in the penalty area. He cut to his right and his touch became a pass to Inui, who took a step to settle the ball before placing a perfectly curled shot inside the right post past a diving Khadim Ndiaye.
Mbaye Niang was sent through by Papa Alioune Ndiaye in the 39th minute, but his first-time touch was knocked away by a charging Kawashima. The Lions of Teranga continued to probe Japan’s defense after the restart, earning an early corner after Sarr’s cross was cleared by Maya Yoshida.
Senegal, though, could not find consistency delivering corners to threaten Samurai Blue. Mane set up Ndiaye for a chance, but he failed to pick out the top right corner as his effort went over the bar on 52 minutes.
Kawashima had a comfortable save on a shot from distance by Niang three minutes later, and then Japan controlled play for the next spell. Yuya Osako should have given Japan the lead on 61 minutes, but he fluffed his lines on a cross from Gabu Shibasaki at point-blank range, whiffing on a right-footed attempt.
Osako nearly atoned for his gaffe, sending Inui through on the left with a clever backheel after getting the ball at the top of the penalty area. Inui one-timed his right-footed volley and curled it off the crossbar in the 65th minute.
Senegal re-gained the lead in the 71st minute through Wague. Sabaly started the play on the left in the penalty area, and his cross was nicked by Niang and rolled across the face of the goal before Wague thumped a shot from the elbow of the six-yard box on the right into the roof of the net.
Osako nearly brought Japan level, but a block by Salif Sane averted the danger momentarily. Osako, though, finally found his moment of redemption by starting the play that led to the equalizer.
He tried a cross from above the penalty area for the left post that Khadim Ndiaye flapped out around a pair of Senegal defenders. Inui chased down the ball before it reached the end line and sent a cross through the vacated area that Honda slotted home from six yards into the right side of the net.
Honda has made the most of his two substitute appearances that have totaled 38 minutes in Russia, notching an assist on Osako’s match-winner versus Colombia before scoring his fourth World Cup goal. It was the 37th international goal for Japan’s all-time leading scorer.