Keysher Fuller scored in the 81st minute to lift Costa Rica to a 1-0 victory over Japan on Sunday, leaving both teams with three points after two games in Group E of the World Cup.
Fuller took advantage of a defensive error when Japan failed to clear the ball and hit the net from 18 meters just off the fingertips of leaping Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda.
The match at Ahmad Bin Ali stadium was tactical and largely lackluster, particularly in the first half that did not yield a single shot on goal. The second half was slightly better with Japan pressing throughout until Costa Rica broke through.
Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas came up with several rapid fire saves in the final minutes to ensure the victory.
Japan has one Group E game remaining with Spain, and Costa Rica faces Germany in its final group match. With a victory, Japan could have all but wrapped up a place in the knockout stage after a 2-1 upset of Germany in its opener. Costa Rica was pounded by Spain 7-0 in its first game and just trying to survive.
Japan had the edge in corners, shots, and possession but could not find the net.
The first half might have been one of the worst of the tournament that has already seen four 0-0 draws. Neither team had a shot on goal in a tactical stalemate.
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 always looked like Joel Campbell, trying to use his speed on the left flank.
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.
Despite Japan’s attacking intent, the late defensive error cost the team, which seemed headed for a draw and a valuable point.
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 may not win the World Cup, but it’s winning goodwill with its tradition of cleaning up fan areas and player dressing rooms after the match. This dates from Japan’s first appearance in the World Cup in 1998. This time Japanese team officials have arrived with 8,000 trash bags with thank-you greetings in Arabia, Japanese, and English.