Essentially written off after being battered by Spain, Keysher Fuller has changed everything for Costa Rica.
Fuller took advantage of a defensive error and scored the only goal of the match to lead his team over Japan 1-0 Sunday at the World Cup. Both teams now have three points after two matches and a good chance to advance to the round of 16 from Group E.
“We’re still alive,” said Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez, a Colombian who also guided Ecuador and Honduras to World Cup berths. “We weren’t dead yesterday, and now we are very much in this. The main thing is we are still alive. No one can forget about us. We can still dream.”
Fuller scored his goal in the 81st minute after Japan failed to clear the ball. He hit the net from 18 meters (yards), with the shot going in off the fingertips of leaping Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda.
The match at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium was tactical and largely lackluster, particularly in a first half that did not yield a single shot on goal. Japan pressed throughout the second half until Costa Rica broke through.
Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas came up with several saves in quick succession in the final minutes to ensure the victory.
Japan has one Group E game remaining against Spain, while Costa Rica faces Germany in its final match. With a victory, Japan could have all but wrapped up a place in the knockout stage after a 2-1 upset win over Germany in its opener. Costa Rica was pounded by Spain 7-0 in its first game and just trying to survive.
Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said Costa Rica’s “solid defense” prevented his team from attacking more.
“In the first half we couldn’t really develop any chances,” Moriyasu said. “I believe to a certain degree we were playing OK, however the result was a shame.”
The first half might have been one of the dullest of a tournament that has already seen five 0-0 draws. Neither team had a shot on goal.
Ritsu Doan, who scored one of Japan’s goals in the 2-1 win over Germany, looked the most threatening early with runs down the right side looking to cut in crosses. Costa Rica’s most menacing player was Joel Campbell, trying to use his speed on the left flank.
“We had more confidence with the ball than we had in the first game. We were more focused on defense and took advantage of our chances up front,” Campbell said.
There was more action in the first two minutes after the break than in the entire first half. Hidemasa Morita tested Navas with a blistering shot in the first minute, and Takuma Asano forced another save a minute later.
Japan, which is appearing it its seventh straight World Cup, has reached the knockout stage on three occasions, losing each time in the round of 16. Costa Rica reached the quarterfinals in Brazil in 2014.
Japan is still winning goodwill with its tradition of cleaning up fan areas and player dressing rooms after the match. This dates from Japan’s first appearance at the World Cup in 1998. This time, Japanese team officials arrived with 8,000 trash bags with thank you greetings in Arabic, Japanese, and English.