YEKATERINBURG, Russia — Keisuke Honda sat on the bench for 72 minutes, knowing a goal would make him the first Japanese player to score at three World Cups.
Six minutes later, it was a done deal.
The former AC Milan forward scored in the 78th minute, knocking the ball past two defenders standing on the goal line, to give Japan a 2-2 draw with Senegal on Sunday at the World Cup.
The 32-year-old Honda also scored at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. He has 37 international goals in his career.
“I believe I used substitutions very well in looking back,” said Japan coach Akira Nishino, who took over shortly before the tournament started. “Honda was moved from center to the wide side and he was very versatile at adapting to that position.
“We really wanted to win, we wanted to equalize and also take the lead even though there was only a short period of time left.”
The draw keeps both teams at the top of Group H ahead of their final matches. Japan will next face Poland in Volgograd on Thursday while Senegal faces Colombia in Samara.
Sadio Mane gave Senegal the lead in the 11th minute with his first World Cup goal.
The Liverpool forward tapped the ball into the net after goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was unable to control a shot from Youssouf Sabaly.
“The ball touched my foot and went into the net,” Mane said. “It was really just the foot on the ball.”
Japan struck back in the 34th minute when Takashi Inui scored with Japan’s first shot on goal, but Moussa Wague restored the lead with a shot high into the net in the 71st.
A minute later, Nishino sent on Honda and striker Shinji Okazaki.
Senegal outshot Japan 14-7 and had five shots on target. Japan had only two.
“Frankly speaking, I think we are a bit disappointed,” Mane said. And that’s normal because there was a way to win this match.”
Aliou Cisse, the coach of Senegal and the captain of the 2002 team that reached the quarterfinals, said his team needs to be more aggressive.
“We need to have more concentration and be more rigorous,” Cisse said. “We didn’t lose today. We didn’t play a great game, but we didn’t lose.”
With four points from their opening two games, both teams remain in contention but will need points from their final group matches to make the round of 16.
KEY TO SUCCESS
Japan used its speed to control the middle of the field and open spaces in Senegal’s defense, but they still couldn’t stop the African team from taking the lead.
KEEP IT CLEAN
After the game was over, the Japanese and Senegalese fans — equipped with blue trash bags — joined forces to clean the stadium.
They did the same after Japan’s victory over Colombia and Senegal’s win over Poland on Tuesday.
“We were very impressed,” Japan defender Maya Yoshida said.
For the second straight match, Japan had high-profile support in the stands.
Princess Hisako of Takamada is the first member of Japan’s royal family to visit Russia in more than a century.