EKATERINBURG • Japanese midfielder Takashi Inui was left to rue what might have been despite scoring a goal and setting up the other as Japan twice fought back from behind to secure a 2-2 draw with Senegal in Eketarinburg on Sunday.
Inui, who signed for Real Betis earlier this month, has been one of Japan's most influential players at this World Cup and was once again a constant threat down the left flank in the Group H encounter.
He scored Japan's first equaliser with a delightful curled finish, set up Keisuke Honda for Japan's second 12 minutes from time and also hit the crossbar with another second-half effort.
Despite his personal performance, Inui echoed the words of his coach Akira Nishino in expressing disappointment that Japan did not get the win that would have put them in control of the group.
"It was a game we could have won and I think there would have been a different outcome if I had scored a second," Inui told Kyodo News.
He blamed his poor marking for the second Senegal goal but Honda had only praise for his team-mate for helping him become the highest-scoring Asian player in World Cup history.
"It was a great ball from Takashi, and it would have been bad if I had missed it," said the 32-year-old after scoring his fourth World Cup goal, adding to his haul from 2010 and 2014. "We could go out of the tournament if we lose the next match so it's a huge game. We still feel a sense of urgency."
Japan go into their final group match against Poland on Thursday knowing a draw will guarantee their safe passage to the round of 16.
Honda set up the winner for Yuya Osako in Japan's 2-1 win over Colombia and was an impact substitute again.
Former Japan midfielder Keita Suzuki believes Nishino stuck with the same starting XI "to continue with that same momentum and motivation".
"The idea was not to try to match up with Senegal but for Japan to play its own game," the 36-year-old wrote in yesterday's Sports Nippon.
"Nishino's message not to be scared of the opposition looks to have sunk in."
Senegal conceded they were outfoxed by their opponents' movement and technical ability.
"The problem was that there was a lot of movement on the part of the Japanese," said Senegal midfielder Alfred Ndiaye.
"The Japanese played with four or five players in their axis and they swopped continuously. It was difficult for us to handle the situation. We must pay tribute to them. It was a pretty even game."