Colombia beat Japan 4-1 to storm into the Round of 16 with a perfect record and end their opponents’ hopes of a late escape from elimination. A Jackson Martinez brace, alongside goals from Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez, sealed the triumph, after Shinji Okazaki given Alberto Zaccheroni’s side hope. There was even time for history to be made as Faryd Mondragon took to the field to become the oldest player ever to appear at a FIFA World Cup™.
Roared on by a legion of fans in yellow, who were unencumbered by nerves with their progression assured, Colombia began the game brightly, with nine new starters from the previous game out to make an impression. Japan created the clearest opening of the early exchanges, however, with Makoto Hasebe’s raking pass picking out Yoshito Okubo, who turned Eder Balanta inside out before snatching his shot into a crowd of bodies.
The period of supremacy that followed for the Samurai Blue was fleeting, after Adrian Ramos was toppled by Yasuyuki Konno in the Japanese area following Martinez’s through-ball. Cuadrado stepped up and made no mistake from 12 yards.
With that early goal, any argument for cautious tactics from either side was largely null and void, and it showed. As Japan looked to hash out a reply, neat interplay between Okubo and Shinji Kagawa saw the Manchester United midfielder create space for himself well, before forcing David Ospina to dive low to his right with a mis-hit shot. Okubo, who was present during the side’s first meeting in the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2003, was looking confident, attempting an audacious overhead-kick following Atsuto Uchida’s cross.
With half-time beckoning, Jose Pekerman’s side should have all but ended Japan’s hopes. Santiago Aris released Ramos, who, with every right to shoot himself, squared to the unmarked Martinez, only to see the Porto star fluff his lines. And with the last touch of the half Japan were level. Honda cut inside from the right wing and delivered a delicate cross which found Okazaki, who had got goal-side of Carlos Valdes to head beyond Ospina.
The introduction of Rodriguez and Carlos Carbonero saw the South Americans emerge with bright intentions, with the former setting a few pulses racing as his shot from 20 yards was deflected narrowly wide after a promising run. His whipped free-kick from the left was then put over by the latter, when he arguably should have scored.
Rodriguez’s impact only took a few seconds longer to take full effect. A bursting run by Arias found the creative wizard on the edge of the area and, with a flicked pass from the Monaco man, Martinez was able to take aim and fire past Eiji Kawashima.
Japan remained positive, despite the set-back. First Hasebe found Kagawa, who thumped a shot over the bar, before a move down the right saw Uchida pick out Okubo. The latter, however, could only produce the same result, denying the Asians what would have been a thrilling team goal.
Konno’s effort from distance deflected kindly into the hands Ospina as Japan committed more and more men forward, leaving themselves at the mercy of the Ramos, Martinez and Rodriguez-based breakaways. And it just that which ended Japan’s hopes of a miraculous escape. Japan were dispossessed and when Rodriguez found Martinez in the area, he had time to turn and curl his effort into the far corner.
Arguably the biggest cheer of the night was still to come though, as the 43-year-old Mondragon, in the squad for USA 1994 and France 1998, was brought on to become the oldest player ever to appear at a World Cup, eclipsing Roger Milla’s 24-year record. The veteran then got to see Rodriguez put the icing on the cake, as he danced past Maya Yoshida before elegantly chipping Kawashima.