Senegal, Japan Play Out Draw Thriller as England Wallops Panama

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Midfielder Keisuke Honda came off the bench to salvage a 2-2 draw for Japan against Senegal, as both teams were locked at the top of Group H following an entertaining encounter yesterday.

But earlier in the day, England’s young and free-flowing team banished the ghost of past national failures with a record 6-1 thrashing of feeble Panama that included a hat-trick by Harry Kane and eased them into the last 16.

However for Senegal, it was a no retreat no surrender in a match that saw veteran Honda, 32, who became the first Japanese player to score in three different World Cups, replaced Shinji Kagawa in the second half with his team down 2-1 and fired the equaliser in 12 minutes from time after a bad error by Senegal goalkeeper Khadim N’Diaye.

Senegal thought they had claimed all three points as Moussa Wague drilled the ball into the top of the net in the 71st minute to make it 2-1, after Sadio Mane’s fortuitous first-half opener was cancelled out by Takashi Inui’s curling shot. But Honda ensured things ended level and deservedly so.

The result leaves both teams, who beat Colombia and Poland respectively in their opening matches, on four points from two games and within reach of a spot in the last 16.

“They were avoidable goals, that’s clear,” Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said in a blunt assessment of his defence. “The best team was Japan, we have to admit that.”

“We didn’t play a great game but we didn’t lose… I believe… I have confidence. Our team has the quality to face Colombia,” he added, looking forward to Thursday’s meeting with the South Americans in Samara. Japan play Poland in Volgograd.

Senegal’s back line might have faltered towards the end but they began strongly and their robust defending neutralised any early threat that the Japanese front line posed, allowing their own attackers to push up in numbers.

The Africans went ahead in the 11th minute, although there was an element of luck to their opener.

A poor headed clearance landed right at Youssouf Sabaly’s feet and although goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima managed to parry the defender’s stinging shot from the left, the ball rebounded into the net off Mane’s knee.

Japan regained composure and responded with a well-taken goal with their only shot on target in the opening period to level the score at 1-1.

But the Asians were not done and hit back again through midfielder Honda, who collected Inui’s pass and prodded into an empty net after goalkeeper N’Diaye stepped off his line and failed to punch the ball away.

“It was a tough match and we knew it was going to be tough,” Japan coach Akira Nishino said. “I evaluate it as a very good point. Senegal is a tough team and this result I hope will lead to success in the next match.”

In the England’s match, it was the Three Lions’ biggest-ever World Cup win, featuring two penalties by Kane then a fortuitous deflection off his heel, also guaranteed Belgium’s berth in the next round.

“Not many players score a hat-trick at a World Cup, so I’m proud of it. We had fun out there too,” said Kane calling his third “one of the luckiest goals of my life.”

Ahead of their meeting on Thursday to decide who tops Group G, England and Belgium are level on points, goal difference and goals scored.

Sunday’s game at a pulsating Nizhny Novgorod stadium left the shell-shocked Central Americans out of their debut tournament with nine goals conceded. It also eliminated Tunisia.

Playing from the off with an ease and trickery that contrasted with the stressed-looking England flops of recent international tournaments, Gareth Southgate’s team romped into a remarkable 5-0 lead at halftime.

Defender John Stones headed England in front in the eighth minute from a corner, losing his marker to angle home, before captain Kane made it 2-0 in the 22nd minute with a penalty after Jesse Lingard was pushed in the box by Fidel Escobar.

Lingard made it 3-0 in the 36th minute with a beautiful strike from just outside the area before Stones nodded in his second and England’s fourth from a cleverly worked free kick routine. Kane scored another penalty just before halftime.

The in-form Tottenham striker bagged his third after a 61st minute shot by Ruben Loftus-Cheek hit his foot and bounced over despairing Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.