Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the World Cup
group-stage clash between Colombia
at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk. After watching 28 other sides get their campaigns up and running in Russia, today we get to see four entertaining teams from four different continents in what is quite possible the hardest-to-call of the eight groups.
Poland and Senegal face off a little later to complete the first round of group-stage fixtures, but before then comes this showdown in Saransk between Colombia and Japan, almost exactly four years to the day since they last faced off. On that occasion Los Cafeteros ran out comfortable winners - more on that a little later - and they head into this Group H opener as favourites once again.
COLOMBIA TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Ospina; Arias, D.Sanchez, Murillo, Mojica; C.Sanchez, Lerma; Cuadrado, Quintero, Izquierdo; Falcao
SUBS: Vargas, J.F Cuadrado, Zapata, Barrios, Bacca, Aguilar, James, Mina, Muriel, Uribe, F.Diaz, Borja
There was a big question mark over the fitness of star man James Rodriguez heading into the match, and the big news for Colombia is that the Bayern Munich midfielder misses out on selection. It is a major blow for the South American side, having relied so heavily on their main man throughout the qualifying process. Instead, it is now down to Radamel Falcao - a World Cup
debutant, incredibly - to supply the goals.
Juan Fernando Quintero and Juan Cuadrado are also selected in Colombia's starting lineup, as is Brighton & Hove Albion ace Jose Izquierdo, while Jefferson Lerma of Spanish side Levante is give the nod in central midfield. Luis Muriel is the unlucky player to miss out, but there is no doubt that the big news here is the absence of star man James Rodriguez, out of the XI due to a hamstring issue.
Left-back Frank Fabra was ruled out of the World Cup earlier this month with a knee injury, so Johan Mojica is given a chance to impress in the backline. Out on the right is Santiago Arias, while the now household name of Davinson Sanchez will link up with Jeison Murillo in the heart of defence. Yerry Mina was only used six times for Barcelona in the second half of last season, perhaps explaining his absence from the side.
JAPAN TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Kawashima; Sakai, Yoshida, Shoji, Nagatomo; Hasebe, Shibasaki; Haraguchi, Kagawa, Inui; Osako
SUBS: Higashiguchi, Nakamura, Ueda, Honda, Endo, Okazaki, Usami, Muto, Yamaguchi, Oshima, Makino, Sakai
This Japan side may boast some talented attacking players, none more so than Borussia Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa
, but scoring goals has proved to be a problem of late. Keisuke Honda, for example, has failed to score in 14 international matches since September 2016, and he is therefore left out of the starting lineup today. Instead, it will likely be Yuya Osako
of Werder Bremen who will lead the line.
Shinji Okazaki has been nursing a calf problem in recent days, meanwhile, and is therefore left out, so another German-based player in Genki Haraguchi is given the nod in attacking midfield. If Kagawa is one of the poster boys of this side then Takashi Inui may well soon join him, having impressed during his time in La Liga and netted twice in a 4-2 win against Paraguay last week.
Mainz ace Yoshinori Muto was in contention to start this afternoon's match, but he is instead left on the bench and will likely be brought on at some point in the second half. Like opposite number Jose Pekerman
, Japan boss Akira Nishino
is expected to go with a 4-3-2-1 formation that sees Makoto Hasebe and Gaku Shibasaki sitting as the deepest midfielder. Further back, Metz goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima is selected between the sticks.
The big team news is that Colombia will be without star man James Rodriguez from the off this afternoon. The Bayern Munich attacker, who played a pivotal part in Los Cafeteros's qualification campaign, is only deemed fit enough for a place on the bench due to a hamstring problem. Japan, meanwhile, are also without a couple of players, including Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki - he is among the subs.
Colombia head into this match as favourites, as they sit 16th in the latest FIFA rankings - 45 places higher than their opponents. La Tricolor caught the eye four years ago when making it to the quarter-finals in Brazil, before being defeated by the host nation in a match now best remembered for the injury suffered by Neymar. Can they achieve something similar this time around? In the words of boss Pekerman, it is a case of one game at a time.
The 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists tends to struggle against better sides, as witnessed in their qualifying campaign. Colombia picked up a couple of draws and lost the rest of their six matches against Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina - the three sides that finished above them in the CONMEBOL region. Japan are not in the same category as those aforementioned sides, though, so Los Cafeteros should be fine.
There is a sense that this Colombia side is still a work in progress, even if they do have some extremely talented individuals in their ranks. Their qualifying campaign was not exactly smooth sailing, finishing just a point ahead of Peru and Chile - the latter of whom missed the cut entirely for this tournament. Pekerman's charges rounded things off with three points from the last 12 on offer, including a final-game draw against the Peruvians.
In what is a favourable group, however, Colombia have been tipped to make an impact in Russia as they did in Brazil four years ago. Despite boasting a talented crop of individuals, there is still a reliance on James Rodriguez, making his absence from the starting lineup all the more difficult to take. James played a direct part in eight of his side's 12 goals in that memorable 2014 World Cup campaign, scoring six and assisting two more.
The Bayern Munich ace also contributed to almost half of Colombia's 21 goals in qualifying for Russia 2018, netting six of his own and setting up four more. James's career stagnated at Real Madrid following a promising start, but he has slowly found his feet at the Allianz Arena and plenty is expected of him over these next few weeks - if he can shake off this troublesome hamstring problem!
DID YOU KNOW? Colombia scored just 21 goals in CONMEBOL qualifying, with just three members of their squad scoring more than once - James Rodriguez (6), Carlos Bacca (3) and Radamel Falcao (2). Los Cafeteros scored 12 times in their five matches out in Brazil four years ago, averaging 2.4 goals a game, which only champions Germany could better.
With James absent, and Luis Muriel only deemed worth of a place on the bench, now is the time for Radamel Falcao to step up. The Monaco striker has got his career back on track over the past year or so, most recently netting 18 times in the French top flight last time out. With Izquierdo, Quintero and Cuadrado - no player bagged more assists than him in Brazil, incidentally - providing the ammunition, surely it is just a matter of time before Colombia click into gear.
None of Colombia's 18 matches at the World Cup finals have ended goalless - only the United States (33) and Austria (29) can boast longer runs. At the risk of cursing things, it is also worth pointing out that we have yet to see a stalemate across the opening round of fixtures, with just two more to be played ahead of 'matchday two'. Fingers crossed that run continues for at least another couple of hours!
The South American nation's form has been far from impressive heading into the competition, having won just two of their last nine matches. One of those triumphs came away at France, though, as they recovered from a couple of goals down in Paris to stun their opponents 3-2. Goals were few and far between from that point on, rounding off their preparations with goalless draws against Australia and Egypt.
Colombia, ranked 16th in the latest FIFA rankings, are aiming to replicate their successful World Cup campaign of four years ago. Los Cafeteros reached the last eight in Brazil and won the hearts of many, particularly in the case of James Rodriguez who lit the tournament up. In a winnable group, plenty is now expected of Jose Pekerman
Japan, competing in their sixth successive World Cup finals, have never made it further than the last 16. Reaching the quarter-finals was the target four years ago, only to crash out at the group stage with just one point from a possible nine to their name. Following the dismissal of manager Vahid Halilhodzic in April, it is difficult to work out exactly what to expect from the Samurai Blue.
It is now down to Nishino, promoted from his position as technical director, to guide Japan out of Group H. The Samurai Blue rather comfortably made it through their qualifying group, topping the standings ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia, both of whom still managed to make it to Russia. Japan won six and lost two of their second-stage fixtures, ending with the best goals for and goals against tallies.
Japan have lost to Brazil, Belgium, Ukraine, Ghana and Switzerland across their seven warm-up games for the World Cup - far from ideal form. The Asian side did beat Paraguay 4-2 last week to pick up a little momentum, though, thanks in large to the performance of Takashi Inui. Nishino would have loved a fit-and-firing Honda in his ranks, too, but the Pachuca ace has gone 21 months without netting for his country.
Japan are winless in their previous six World Cup matches on European soil, losing five of those. The Samurai Blues have also never beaten a South American side in this competition, losing three and drawing one, so they have to overturn the form books if they are to get off to a winning start today. Furthermore, they have won their opening game once in their last five attempts.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS! Colombia are unbeaten in three previous games against Japan, winning two of those. The most recent encounter came almost four years ago to the day when Los Cafeteros triumphed 4-1 in Cuiaba to secure top spot in their World Cup group, with Jackson Martinez (two), James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado all on target that afternoon.
With kickoff at the Mordovia Arena now less than 10 minutes away, let us check out some pre-match thoughts from both camps.
Jose Pekerman: "The short-term objective is to get through the group stage, and this is not easy at all. The team, four years ago, started in good form and improved as the tournament went on and reached the quarter-finals. This team still has to show this level. We respect all the World Cup teams. There are many favorites. We hope to do as well as we did four years ago, or better, but the truth is that we'll go match by match."
Akira Nishino: "There were players who were a bit shocked by this incident and they were concerned about relatives and family members. They were concerned, so this psychological impact is something I am a bit worried about. But we, the team staff, are consulting with them and hope they will settle down."
To give those comments from Akira Nishino some context, an earthquake measuring 6.1 Richter Scale struck Osaka on Sunday, killing two people and injuring around 200 others. Nishino says that some of his players have been left shaken up by events back home, and he is worried that they may have their minds elsewhere this afternoon. One thing this Japan squad does have, though, is plenty of experienced heads.
Jose Pekerman, speaking to the press on Monday for the first time since March, insists that Colombia will take things one game at a time in Russia. The drawback, if you can call it that, of impressing at a major tournament is that the pressure is then on to match the feat next time around. Los Cafeteros are a work in progress and, like opponents Japan in many ways, their campaign could go one of two ways.
Both sets of players are now out on the field of play, with the anthems to follow. Colombia's supporters made plenty of noise four years ago when closer to home, and those in attendance in this 42,000-capacity ground will no doubt make a racket over the next couple of hours. Group H is incredibly tough to call, meaning that every point will be crucial. Bring it on!
KICKOFF! We are up officially and running at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk! Japan, sporting their all-blue strip, are aiming to pull off an upset of sorts against 2014 quarter-finalists Colombia. This could be a lively one!
PENALTY TO JAPAN!
Huge drama inside the opening three minutes of this game - I did say it could be lively! Ospina made a brilliant save to keep out the initial shot from Yuya Osaka, but Kagawa met the follow up and if not for the upper arm of Carlos Sanchez
he would have found the net. The referee has no choice but to point to the spot and issue a red card.
Sanchez is taking an absolute age to leave the field of play. The Colombia midfielder is distraught and arguing his case, but in the day of VAR it is pretty hard to get away with something as blatant as that. Kagawa will step up for the penalty...
GOAL! COLOMBIA 0-1 JAPAN (SHINJI KAGAWA, PENALTY)
Shinji Kagawa makes no mistake from the spot, waiting for David Ospina to move to his right before tucking the ball down the middle. Japan have a lead inside six minutes and also have a man advantage - this is very much theirs to lose!
Colombia simply need to get a hold of the ball over these next few minutes and try to settle down. Japan, likewise, need to keep their heads as there is a risk of getting ahead of themselves following this fast start to the match.
SAVE! Radamel Falcao gets his boot to a cross and directs the ball on target, but it was hit too close to Eiji Kawashima who was able to collect. Good response from the South Americans, having been dealt a huge blow so early on.
On the Japan attack that led to the early penalty, Davinson Sanchez was badly caught out as he allowed the ball to bounce. The shot from Osako was saved but Colombia would be punished via another means once Damir Skomina pointed to the spot.
CHANCE! Inevitably, Japan are already being given plenty of chances to counter. From one such opportunity, Takashi Inui is picked out down the left but his shot ended a few inches wide of David Ospina's target.
Cuadrado runs out of ground when attempting to get a cross into the box. Los Cafeteros are having to work twice as hard now as they desperately seek an equaliser, while at the same time remaining alert to the threat of a Japanese counter-attack.
Carlos Sanchez's red card came after two minutes and 56 seconds - the second fastest shown in World Cup history. Colombia have actually edged the possession stats since then, but the Samurai Blue have looked the more dangerous in the final third.
Colombia have certainly settled down over the last five or 10 minutes, yet this game remains incredibly open. Down to 10 men for effectively the entire game, you have to wonder just how long it will be before Pekerman's charges tire.
The good news for the neutral is that Colombia are throwing the kitchen sink at their opponents. Japan, understandably, are not willing to simply sit back and are themselves looking to get the ball forward at every opportunity. Great game of football!
Japan have taken the sting out of the game over the past few minutes. The open nature was never going to last the full 90 and the pace has now slowed slightly, but it is still a gripping contest. The Samurai Blue in a strong position here.
The only shot on target since Japan's early opener came through that Falcao attempt 11 minutes in. Colombia have plenty of attacking options to bring on from the bench, but it will be a while before Pekerman changes things too drastically.
Japan unable to really create anything unless it is on the counter. Colombia are far more settled now than they were in the opening 10 minutes, but they will need to start creating chances if they are to salvage something from this contest.
You have to wonder whether Carlos Sanchez's World Cup campaign is over after less than 180 seconds. There will be a ban for the straight red, while his refusal to immediately leave the field could also come back to haunt the Fiorentina man.
COLOMBIA SUB! Jose Pekerman has decided to change things around. Juan Cuadrado is the fall guy, making way for Wilmar Barrios who will help plug the hole vacated by Carlos Sanchez. Osaka with half a chance, which was miscued wide.
Nagatomo is proving to be a threat down the left, and his cross takes a big deflection before dropping on to the roof of the opposition net. Japan now in control of the match, with the subsequent set piece nodded clear by Falcao.
SHOT! Not sure if Falcao was looking to bring down the ball or flick it over Kawashima, but either way the ball was easily collected by the Japan keeper. Better from Colombia, who need to start creating more regularly.
Quintero's deliveries into the box towards Falcao are proving to be Colombia's most likely route through to goal at the moment. Pekerman's men have performed well after suffering such a huge blow inside the opening throes of the game.
GOAL! COLOMBIA 1-1 JAPAN (JUAN QUINTERO)
Genius from Juan Quintero
; disaster for Eiji Kawashima. The Colombian attacker sent a free kick under the jumping Japanese wall and it somehow crept between Kawashima and the post. Goal-line technology was not exactly needed - it was clearly over the line before the Japan keeper clawed it away.
This has been a fantastic first half for the neutral. Japan going ahead early on helped and, while the red card looked to have potentially killed off Colombia's hopes, the South Americans have hit back through that impressive Quintero effort.
Japan may well have been complaining about the awarding of the free kick itself, rather than whether or not the ball crossed the line - it clearly did. Falcao did buy the free kick, it has to be said, but Kawashima could have done more to keep it out.
HALF TIME: COLOMBIA 1-1 JAPAN
The sides go into the break all square at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk. It has been an action-backed first half, starting with the World Cup's second-quickest red card and ending with Colombia pegging Japan back. Here's for similar drama in the second 45!
The drama in Saransk started with referee Damir Skomina reaching into his back pocket after just two minutes and 56 seconds, deeming that Shinji Kagawa's shot had struck Carlos Sanchez on his upper arm on its way through on goal. While Carlos Sanchez took the fall, namesake Davinson was equally at fault as he allowed a ball over the top to bounce in the build-up to the penalty incident, allowing Yuya Osaka to shoot and Kagawa to pounce on the follow-up.
Kagawa was the man who stepped up to take the penalty, waiting for David Ospina to dive to his right before sending the ball down the middle. The first half had an incredibly open feel to it for the next 15 minutes, with Japan squandering the best of their half-chances on the counter through Takashi Inui. Colombia struggled for goals in qualifying and, down to 10 men so early in the game and without injured star man James Rodriguez, it was proving to be a frustrating afternoon.
That changed shortly before the interval, however, thanks to a moment of individual brilliance from Juan Quintero. The River Plate attacker, who had set up two saved shots for Radamel Falcao earlier in the half, sent a free kick under the jumping Japanese wall and inside Eiji Kawashima's post despite the keeper's best efforts to claw it away. Japan were unhappy with the referee's decision to award the free kick, however, as they felt Falcao went to ground far too easily once barged into by Makoto Hasebe.
COLOMBIA SUBS: Vargas, J.F Cuadrado, Zapata, Bacca, Aguilar, James, Mina, Muriel, Uribe, F.Diaz, Borja
JAPAN SUBS: Higashiguchi, Nakamura, Ueda, Honda, Endo, Okazaki, Usami, Muto, Yamaguchi, Oshima, Makino, Sakai
RESTART! We are back under way at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk. Neither manager has made any further changes at the interval, so we start the second half with the same 21 players than ended the first half.
Japan have started the second half looking far more lively than they looked in the final 20 minutes or so of the first half. The Samurai Blue took their foot off the gas and were punished through that Juan Quintero free kick.
Maya Yoshida controls the ball when it arrives in the box, but he was unable to get away a shot or pick out a teammate. Japan have been on top since the restart, barely giving Colombia a chance to enjoy a spell in possession.
The obvious question to ask, with the hour mark now fast approaching, is whether we will see anything of James Rodriguez today. A 1-1 draw would be far from disastrous for Los Cafeteros given the circumstances, and they must now decide whether to stick or twist.
SAVE! Nearly 10 minutes into the second half and I'm struggling to remember Colombia putting more than a few passes together. This is much better from Japan, as Yuya Osaka gets a low shot on target for David Ospina to keep out.
The message from Akira Nishino at the interval was pretty clear - attack Colombia and make the one-man advantage count. They are starting to do that, certainly more so than in the first half, though it remains 1-1 with 35 minutes to go.
SAVE! Japan really knocking on the door now. Not only are they dominating possession, chances are also starting to arrive their way. Inui cuts inside on his right and sends a curler goalwards for Ospina to push away.
COLOMBIA SUB! The first half was very open and arguably edged by Colombia; the second half has been all about Japan. Jose Pekerman has seen enough - on comes James Rodriguez for Juan Quintero, whose goal put La Tricolor on level terms.
Sakai gets forward down the right and sends a shot right across goal. Colombia now have their star man on the field but they are simply unable to get a foothold on the match. The one-man advantage is certainly beginning to tell.
YELLOW CARD! Wilmar Barrios, brought on in the first half to shore up Colombia's midfield, is cautioned for stamping on Shinji Kagawa's boot. The match has gone very scrappy all of a sudden, but Japan are still in control.
Inui loves cutting inside on his right. The Real Betis attacker has done so again, seeing his goalbound effort cleared by the head of Davinson Sanchez. Another corner won by the Asian side, as they continue to build some momentum.
JAPAN SUB! Akira Nishino has seen his side dictate the tempo of the second-half play, and the Japan boss has now turned to his bench. Shinji Kagawa is off and Keisuke Honda, on a terrible goalscoring run, is on in his place.
COLOMBIA SUB! Jose Pekerman decides against packing central midfield by instead turning to Carlos Bacca in place of Jose Izquierdo. This has been a testing second half for La Tricolor, who are clearly not settling for a point.
SHOT! It has taken Honda all of two minutes to get a shot away. The effort from range lacked pace and precision, though, and it was routinely dealt with by David Ospina. Japan have seen a whopping 77% of the ball in the second half.
GOAL! COLOMBIA 1-2 JAPAN (YUYA OSAKO)
Japan are deservedly back in front thanks to Yuya Osako's header. The striker, not the most prolific of players, got his head to a right-sided corner - awarded after Hiroki Sakai's close-range shot was blocked behind - and now Colombia have it all to do.
A reminder that Colombia are 45 place above Japan in the FIFA rankings, so this will be a pretty big upset. They may have had a one-man advantage since the third minute, but credit to the Samurai Blue for making it count.
CHANCE! James Rodriguez with his first sight of goal, which he is unable to make the most of. The Bayern Munich belted his close-range effort towards goal, but Japan goalscorer Osako chucked his body on the line. Great block!
JAPAN SUB! Hotaru Yamaguchi has been brought on for Gaku Shibasaki in Japan's second change of the afternoon. Much like in the first half, Japan are at risk of dropping too deep after edging themselves in front.
This has been an incredibly gripping contest throughout. Japan looking to run the clock down whenever they get a chance down now, although for good reason in this instance as Osako looked to have been caught by his opponent.
Just six minutes left for 2014 quarter-finalists Colombia to find a response. No doubt that Pekerman would take a point if offered to him right now, with his side never looking likely to win the contest once level at 1-1.
JAPAN SUB! Here comes Japan's third and final substitution, as Yuya Osaka is taken off and Shinji Okazaki is brought on in his place. Colombia attacker James Rodriguez has just been shown a yellow card for a needless lunge.
Colombia starting to build some pressure but Japan are looking firm enough at the back. You would expect the South Americans to create at least one chance, with as many as five minutes expected to be added on in Saransk.
Five minutes have been added on, so there is still plenty of time for a late twist. Falcao could not quite get his attempt into the corner and Japan will now look to take the sting out of the game, which they have done well over the past 10 minutes.
Colombia are now the team seeing more of the ball, without managing to get it deep into the Japan half. The Samurai Blue having to create a wall in front of their own box now, desperately holding out for that full-time whistle.
A poor ball forward is gathered by Kawashima. Colombia have lacked creativity in this second half and have never truly looked like netting. That early red card has had a massive say on this match, and credit must go to Japan for taking advantage.
FULL TIME: COLOMBIA 1-2 JAPAN
Japan see through the final minute of added time for a famous victory. It is the Samurai Blue's first ever victory on European soil in this competition, and their first against a team from South America on any continent. Group H was always going to be tight and this result has only made things even more interesting.
That concludes Sports Mole
's live text coverage of events from the Mordovia Arena. An on-the-whistle report can be found by clicking here
, while updates from Poland's showdown with Senegal in the other Group H clash can be found here
. Thanks for joining!