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YEKATERINBURG, Russia, June 25, 2018 (News Wires) - Attack-minded Japan have defied sceptics who said they would flop at the World Cup and instead go into their final group game on Thursday needing just a draw to reach the last 16.

Japan sacked their coach just two months before the World Cup, throwing their preparations for Russia into chaos.

Following a series of poor friendly results and reported clashes with senior players, the Japan Football Association (JFA) gambled in getting rid of Vahid Halilhodzic and replaced him with JFA technical director Akira Nishino.

The move in April was deeply controversial, coming so close to the World Cup, even if not quite on the scale of the risk taken by Spain, who dumped their coach on the eve of the tournament.

Philippe Troussier, a former coach of the Asian side, told AFP before the tournament that a team bereft of confidence had "no chance" of reaching the knockout stages.

Japan may still fail to get out of Group H, but they have surpassed expectations and play already eliminated Poland with their fate in their own hands.

It has been a roller-coaster few weeks for Japanese fans.

Friendly defeats to Ghana and Switzerland following Nishino's appointment deepened the sense of foreboding, although Japan did beat Paraguay just before the World Cup.

From there they became history-makers when they beat 10-man Colombia 2-1 in their opening game, the first Asian side to defeat a South American team at a World Cup.

They followed that up with a 2-2 draw against Sadio Mane's Senegal on Sunday, a game in which Japan had enough chances to win but ended up twice chasing the match because of poor defending.

Even Senegal coach Aliou Cisse admitted the Asians were the better side.

In the Colombia victory in particular Japan were rewarded for Nishino's adventurous approach.

On the eve of the Senegal showdown, in which Japan were again the underdogs, Nishino revealed that at half time against Colombia some of his players wanted to settle for 1-1.

"But I said that we could win and we will win so we went for victory and that is why I gave them attacking tactics and that is why we are top of the group," said Nishino.

Behind the rather dour demeanour, Nishino has shown himself to have a dry wit.

Asked before the Senegal match how he would counter their strength and height advantage, he replied tongue-in-cheek: "For the past several days I have been telling my players to gain five centimetres and five kilos, but it failed, so we need other measures."

Unfortunate to be 2-1 down on 71 minutes, Nishino made what turned out to be a masterstroke against Senegal.

He immediately hauled off the ineffectual Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa and replaced him with 32-year-old Keisuke Honda in a like-for-like change.

He also replaced midfielder Genki Haraguchi with Leicester City forward Shinji Okazaki as he went for broke.

Six minutes after coming on, Honda equalised.

Knowing that victory would effectively seal a spot in the next round, Nishino threw on attacking midfielder Takashi Usami in the dying minutes.

Japan looked more likely to win, though Nishino said he was content with a point.

"I suggested some improvements and I thought we could go for the win and I told them that (at half time)," said Nishino, a former Gamba Osaka coach criticised in the past for his buccaneering approach.

"In the second half we wanted to win and after twice equalising I put on Usami. There was an option to put on a defender, but I chose to attack."

 

YEKATERINBURG, Russia, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) – Senegal and Japan have played out to an entertaining 2-2 draw in a Group H encounter at the Soccer World Cup on Sunday.

Senegal opened the scoring in the 11th minute in fortunate circumstance when a shot from Youssouf Sabaly was saved by Japanese keeper Eiji Kawashima but ricocheted off Sadio Mane and into the net.

Japan were level in the 34th minute thanks to some sloppy defending from the African side which saw them fail to clear danger effectively.

The ball came to Takashi Inui who unleashed a low curler into the bottom corner of the Senegalese net to draw the teams level at 1-1 which is the way it stayed till half-time.

The sides remained deadlocked until the 70th minute when Senegal restored their lead somewhat against the run of play thanks to a goal from teenager Moussa Wague.

The lead was short lived, however, as Japanese veteran Keisuke Honda scored an equaliser after more poor defending by Senegal saw the teams locked at 2-2.

And that's the way it stayed with Japan and Senegal now level on four points each in Group H.

Japan will now face Poland in their final group match while Senegal are up against Colombia.

NEW YORK, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - Bitcoin dropped to the lowest level this year as pressure mounts on the embryonic digital-currency sector, with global central bankers raising questions of viability and government regulators increasing scrutiny.

The biggest virtual currency fell as much as 5.1 per cent to $5,832.68, piercing the previous low of the year of $5,920.72 that was set on February 6, according Bitstamp prices as of 10.40am in London. That bought its decline from the record high of almost $20,000 reached in December to 70 per cent.

On Friday, Japan’s Financial Services Agency ordered six of the country’s biggest crypto trading venues to improve measures to prevent money laundering. The companies must submit their plans by July 23.

Peer-to-peer money has come under fresh pressure in recent weeks after two South Korean exchanges said they were hacked.

That raised fresh concerns about the security of investor holdings. New pressure in Japan, one of the most crypto-friendly jurisdictions, demonstrated the market’s fragility to regulatory moves in the absence of much positive news.

Bitstamp is one of the major price sources for cryptocurrencies, which have no unified quotation system and can vary substantially among countries. Bloomberg’s composite pricing, which includes Bitstamp and other sources, showed Bitcoin closed Friday at $6,070.19.

YEKATERINBURG, Russia, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - Japan will look to further explore their attacking potential when they face Senegal in a battle of the surprise contenders to advance to the knockout stage from Group H on Sunday.

The Blue Samurai have largely worked on keeping things tight at the back since head coach Akira Nishino took over from the sacked Vahid Halilhodzic in April but saw their attack shift gears in Tuesday's 2-1 win over 10-man Colombia in Saransk.

"We had to start by building the base, which is defence," midfielder Genki Haraguchi told Kyodo news agency. "But with that base in place, our ability to attack and respond to different situations is increasing."

Victory saw Japan become the first Asian side to beat South American opponents at the World Cup but they are fully aware that Senegal, who scored an upset 2-1 win over Poland, could pose a sterner test at the Ekaterinburg Arena.

"We must keep our feet on the ground... we have to take into account that we played against 10 men for almost 90 minutes," skipper Makoto Hasebe said, referring to Carlos Sanchez's dismissal which gave Japan the advantage against Colombia.

"The next game will be a different story, we have to think about that," the defensive midfielder added.

Senegal come into the match equally high on confidence after a strong defensive display in Moscow helped them neutralise the Polish attack led by Robert Lewandowski.

"Senegal won due to discipline," coach Aliou Cisse, captain of the side which beat holders France in their first ever World Cup match in 2002, said. "You saw a Senegal team very solid, very compact."

With 10 of their starting XI from the last match playing in Europe, including Liverpool forward Sadio Mane and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, Senegal resemble a well-drilled European side and could make life tough for Japan.

Playing in their first World Cup in 16 years, Senegal carry the hopes of Africa with Egypt and Morocco out while Nigeria and Tunisia both losing their opening games.

Japan, who will bank on goalscorers Shinji Kagawa and Yuya Osako as well as Keisuke Honda to provide thrust going forward, are confident they have what it takes to seal a third trip to the last 16 -- the furthest they have reached at a World Cup.

Progress could result in a possible meeting with England or Belgium but Nishino is not looking too far ahead. "We'll focus on showing our strength in the next match," he said.

VOLGOGRAD, Russia, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez will be relieved about one thing. His third-minute dismissal in the team's opener with Japan on Tuesday at the World Cup isn't the fastest in the tournament's history.

That honor remains in the hands of Uruguay defender Jose Batista, who was shown a red card against Scotland at the 1986 World Cup inside the first minute.

Still, Sanchez is second in the all-time list and his dismissal means there are now three players in the history of the World Cup who have been sent off inside the first 10 minutes.

JOSE BATISTA, 1986

Batista, a defender, was shown a red card in the 52nd second of a group match against a Scotland team coached by Alex Ferguson, after he brought down midfielder Gordon Strachan at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. It could have been even earlier as the foul was committed in the 39th second - it took the French referee Joel Quiniou a full 13 seconds to brandish the card.

Despite having a one-man advantage for nearly the whole match, the game ended 0-0 and Scotland was eliminated.

Batista, who unlike some of the other players in that Uruguay side didn't have much of a reputation as a bruiser, appears to have come to terms with his place in World Cup history.

"I work at a football academy and I coach an amateur team, and I always hear, 'You know who this guy is? He's the one that got sent off.' So I get my phone out and show them the tackle," Batista said in an interview posted on FIFA.com in 2016.

CARLOS SANCHEZ, 2018

The Colombian holding midfielder's offense wasn't as blatant as Batista's but he was sent off by Slovenian referee Damir Skomina for handling the ball.

Sanchez had struck out his arm to stop a shot that looked bound for the Colombian net at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk.

It was costly. Shinji Kagawa converted the ensuing penalty to give Japan the lead. And though Colombia managed to get back on level terms in the 39th minute with a smart free-kick from Juan Quintero, Japan's man-advantage was evident in the second half. Yuya Osako sealed the win with a powerful header in the 73rd minute.

GEORGIO FERRINI, 1962

The Italian's sending-off in the 1962 World Cup took place during what is arguably the dirtiest game in World Cup history. Italy versus Chile will forever be known as the "Battle of Santiago."

The 66,000 fans at Chile's national stadium witnessed spitting, two-footed challenges, punches, scuffles and even police intervention.

Referee Ken Aston, who later invented the yellow and red card system in place from the 1970 World Cup, took to the field fearful of what was to come. The backdrop to the game had already added an edge to the match with Italian reporters maligning Chile as a country.

In the eighth minute, Aston sent off midfielder Ferrini for a violent foul on a Chile player. Ferrini refused to leave the field and was eventually escorted off by police.

Arguably, the violence only got worse. Italy defender Mario David was also sent off after he high-kicked at Leonel Sanchez's throat. Sanchez, the son of a professional boxer, should have been sent off himself after breaking Humberto Maschio's nose with a punch.

Italy, down to nine men, held on until two late goals saw Chile win 2-0.

ZEZE PROCOPIO,1938

Before the "Battle of Santiago," the match that was perhaps the most violent in World Cup history had taken place at the 1938 World Cup in France when Brazil took on Czechoslovakia.

According to British journalist Brian Glanville, there was "carnage" in the quarterfinal match in Bordeaux.

Zeze, a midfielder, was sent off in the 14th minute for kicking out at Czechoslovakia forward Oldrich Nejedly, who ended up with a broken leg.

Also sent off were Czechoslovakia striker Jan Riha and Brazilian defender Arthur Machado for trading punches in the 89th minute.

The match ended 1-1 and the two sides had to replay two days later, again in Bordeaux. This time, there were no expulsions and Brazil came through 2-1.

Sanchez's red card means that Zeze is no longer one of the three fastest sending offs in World Cup history.

 

SARANSK, Russia, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Japan beat 10-man Colombia 2-1 in Group H on Tuesday to become the first Asian side to beat a South American one at the World Cup.

Asian teams had managed three draws in 17 matches against South American sides but the four-times Asian champions made their extra man count after Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez became the first player to get a red card in Russia.

His sending-off in the third minute, for a deliberate handball, was the second fastest in World Cup history after Uruguay's Jose Batista was dismissed after 55 seconds against Scotland in 1986.

Shinji Kagawa scored from the resulting penalty to give Japan the lead.Juan Quintero's clever low free kick in the 39th minute brought Colombia's equalizer but Yuya Osako leapt above his marker to head a corner into the net for the 73rd-minute winner.

It was sweet revenge for Japan, who were thumped 4-1 by Colombia in Brazil four years ago, but they wasted plenty of chances to kill the game off.

Kagawa went close in the 16th minute but his shot rolled past the post and Osako fired against the face of goal from a dangerous position in the box.

With Japan dominating in midfield, Colombia's Argentine coach Jose Pekerman opted to sacrifice Juan Cuadrado around the half hour mark to send on defensive midfielder Wilmar Barrios.

That gave Colombia extra control and their all-time leading scorer and captain Radamel Falcao came more into the game.

Falcao, making his World Cup debut after missing the last tournament in Brazil due to injury, showed his hunger when he stretched full length to get his foot to an overhead cross but did not have the power to beat the goalkeeper.

Genki Haraguchi's foul on Falcao earned Colombia a foul on the edge of the box and Quintero fired a low free kick under the leaping wall. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and by the time he got his hands to the ball, it had crossed the line.

Pekerman introduced James Rodriguez, who did not start due to a calf problem, in the 59th minute but the Golden Boot winner in Brazil was unable to change the course of the match.

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