SARANSK – A shock 2-1 loss to Japan will be a “bitter memory” for Colombia, coach Jose Pekerman said on Tuesday, but he vowed the stamina and nerve showed by the South Americans despite being a man down will propel them to victories in Group H.
Colombian midfielder Carlos Sanchez was sent off in the third minute for deliberate handball, the second fastest red card in World Cup history, stunning a stadium packed with yellow-shirted Colombia fans.
“We were expecting something completely different. We were hoping to start with a victory,” said Pekerman, whose side reached the quarter-finals in the 2014 World Cup and won over many spectators with their spectacular goals and salsa-dancing celebrations.
But the Argentine-born Pekerman lauded the “Cafeteros” (Coffee-makers) for holding their own after the expulsion and scoring an equaliser in the first half thanks to Juan Quintero's clever low free kick in the 39th minute.
“The positive side of all this is that you could see the team managed to rise to the occasion and managed to get a draw... that's a very good reaction,” added Pekerman. “If we can do that it shows that we have the wherewithal to move forward with the other matches and even win them. We can make up for this first defeat in the next two matches.”
Group H also features Poland and Senegal and is one of the more open of the tournament.
Pekerman defended his strategy, which included subbing in attacking midfielder and 2014 Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez, who had been left out of the starting line-up due to muscle pain.
“The players that I subbed onto the pitch shows that I was not expecting a defensive style of play... I wanted to play along the sides so that they could pass balls forward so that we could cause Japan more problems,” said Pekerman.
But it was all in vain when Japan's Yuya Osako leapt above his marker to head a corner into the net for the 73rd-minute winner.
“Right now our pain is precisely because after that huge effort after scoring that goal... we lost because we were worn down, we were tired and even if I tried subbing on a couple of fresh players it was very hard for us to recover possession and Japan had its opportunities,” Pekerman said.
“This is going to leave us with a bitter memory.”