Colombia opens World Cup with damaging loss to Japan after early red card

FC Yahoo

Colombia’s 2018 World Cup got off to just about the worst possible start on Tuesday in a 2-1 loss to Japan.

The Colombians, widely considered Group H favorites, were a goal down and a man down after just five minutes in their opener. Midfielder Carlos Sanchez was shown the second-quickest red card in World Cup history for what referee Damir Skomina ruled a deliberate handball on a goalbound shot in the penalty area.

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Was a red card the correct call?

There was some confusion about why the incident justified a red card. FIFA and soccer’s global legislative body have moved to avoid “double jeopardy” situations – penalizing a single foul with both a red card and a likely goal against. A recent rule change exempts players who make attempts to legally play the ball.

But a deliberate handball doesn’t qualify, and therefore can warrant both a penalty and a red card. The laws of the game specify that “denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball” is a red card offense.

So Sanchez’s right arm movement sent Japan to the spot. Shinji Kagawa stepped up, sent David Ospina the wrong way, and slotted home the penalty. Colombia was in a hole.

Colombia recovers …

To make matters worse, Colombia was also without its best player, James Rodriguez, due to a calf injury. But another playmaking left-footed midfielder stepped up in James’ absence.

Juan Quintero snuck a free kick under the jumping Japanese wall to equalize seven minutes before halftime:

Japanese players fumed about the foul call that led to the free kick, and they probably had a point. But fouls leading to free kicks outside the box aren’t reviewable by VAR. So Colombia went into halftime level and in the ascendance.

James then entered the game with a half-hour to go, and Los Cafeteros, even a man down, seemed like the more likely winners.

Japan’s winner turns Group H upside down

Eighty-five minutes of 10-on-11 soccer proved to be too much to overcome, however. Yuya Osako’s second-half header gave Japan a 2-1 victory:

Due to the extraordinary circumstances, there’s still a very good chance Group H eventually falls in line with pre-tournament expectations. Colombia is probably still its best team, and Japan its worst. But the South Americans now face an uphill climb into the knockout rounds.

Referee Damir Skomina sends of Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez in its 2018 World Cup opener against Japan. (Reuters)
Referee Damir Skomina sends of Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez in its 2018 World Cup opener against Japan. (Reuters)

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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