Full-backs steal the show as Senegal held by Japan
Japan twice came from behind to seal a 2-2 draw against Senegal in Yekaterinburg on Sunday to ensure neither side are certain of their Last 16 place heading into the final round of Group H clashes.
The Lions of Teranga began the game in the same vein as they'd played their opener against Poland, but they lost their initiative as the contest wore on and were under the cosh for much of the second half.
There were moments of excellent interplay between Sadio Mane and Ismaila Sarr, while the full-backs - Moussa Wague and Youssouf Sabaly - were both impressive.
Mbaye Niang's finishing left a lot to be desired at times, but he was a fine foil for the more subtle attackers, and also created chances for his teammates.
Unfortunately, Senegal didn't play to their strengths, and surprisingly didn't take the initiative against a Japan side who were poor for long stretches of their opener against Colombia.
Their passing was too often careless, their finishing was underwhelming - with five shots off target - and they struggled technically, particularly when Japan began to use the ball more quickly during the second period.
Offensively, Senegal's set pieces must also improve.
Manager rating (out of 10):
6 - Aliou Cisse introduced Badou Ndiaye for Mame Biram Diouf as the sole change to the side that started the opener against Poland. It was something of a negative change, with Cisse looking to bolster the midfield in the face of Japan's supposed technical advantage.
He might have been better introducing another fast, powerful runner to the forward line and encouraging the Lions to have played with the same directness and vibrancy as they employed to down Poland.
As Japan took control after the break, Cisse's only strategy appeared to be to introduce Chiekhou Kouyate and Chiekh Ndoye to add more presence to the midfield.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Khadim N'Diaye, 5 -- Safe hands to deny Yuya Osako early in second half, and was unfortunate to have been duped by a deflection for Japan's first equaliser.
However, he was horribly caught out for Japan's second after failing to claim a cross, although Salif Sane must take some of the blame.
DF Youssef Sabaly, 8 -- Again made a big contribution, contributing the assist for Mane's opener, and worked tirelessly all day.
His technical proficiency shone through compared to some of his teammates, notably with a delightful little turn to create some space for himself in the build-up to Senegal's second.
DF Salif Sane, 7 -- Communication was lacking with N'Diaye for Japan's second, not as imperious as he had been against Poland when faced with a different kind of threat.
Nonetheless, it was another strong display and he won a whopping nine aerial battles.
DF Kalidou Koulibaly, 6 -- Better on the ground than his defensive partner, but not as commanding. Too often he left his position to track Osako and left disorganisation behind him!
DF Moussa Wague, 8 -- Another encouraging display by the right-back, at least going forward and he was the hero of the hour after netting the Lions' second.
His crossing was testing throughout - notably for Senegal's opener - although he was slightly caught out for Japan's equaliser and too much came down his side during the second period.
No one on the park created more goalscoring chances than the teenage full-back.
MF Idrissa Gueye, 6 -- A quiet display by the central midfielder. He saw a lot of the ball when Senegal were in possession, but he was bypassed worryingly easily when Japan were in full flow.
MF Alfred N'Diaye, 6 -- Not particularly influential, and Japan were too often playing through him before he was replaced just after the hour mark.
MF Badou NDiaye, 6 -- Introduced to the side at the expense of Diouf, and while he worked hard defensively - he made two interceptions - his finishing let him down when found in a promising position.
FW Sadio Mane, 7 -- Was much more influential than he had been in Senegal's opening game, even if most of his best work was done in a slightly deeper role.
His anticipation and positioning allowed him to capitalise on Eiji Kawashima's error to net the opener, and he drew three fouls from the opposition and created two goalscoring chances.
FW Mbaye Niang, 7 -- Led the line alone, and proved a handful for the Japan backline with his power.
Had a decent left-footed prodded effort saved in the first half after being played in by Ndiaye, and fired straight at Kawashima after the pause.
While he grew frustrated with the close attentions by the Japanese defenders, he still played a vital contribution in the winner and created three goalscoring chances.
FW Ismaila Sarr, 7 -- Another bright showing from the wideman. He was involved in the interplay for Senegal's opener, and later had a falling effort saved by Kawashima after again dovetailing well with Wague down the right flank.
MF Cheikhou Kouyate, 6 -- Introduced on 65 minutes as Cisse sought to wrest back midfield control and rein in a Japan side who were on the ascendency.
MF Cheikh Ndoye, N/R
FW Mame Biram Diouf, N/R