Before Japan played their World Cup opener against Colombia, where they pulled off a stunning 2-1 win, all roads led to a shambolic campaign. There was almost nothing that could have cheered up Japan and their legion of fans.

Two months leading up to the showpiece event, coach Valid Halilhodic was sacked following a breakdown in relationship with his players.

Premier League winning Leicester City forward Shinji Okazaki suffered an injury while star midfielder Shinji Kagawa was recovering from one.

Despite achieving reasonable success with Japan’s youth teams, in no footballing universe could new coach Akira Nishino warrant a mentioned among his illustrious European counterparts.

In the five matches leading up to the Colombia fixture, the Blue Samurai had lost three, drew one, and won one.

That 4-2 win over Paraguay in a friendly, in all probability, seemed like a drizzle before the hailstorm: they were pitted against Colombia, Senegal and Poland in Gro.

Just when they were picking up the pieces of a fractured, incoherent team, they were dealt with another hammer blow on the eve of the World Cup. An earthquake in Osaka left some of the players “emotionally impacted”, said Japan captain Makoto Hasebe.

Gone are the days where Japan regularly exported talent to clubs across Europe. Now, they are a team trying to convince opponents in their own continent about their credentials. Currently, they lie 61st in the world, way off from the standards that were set in the first decade of this millennium.

Pessimistic Troussier

Even history books suggested that odds were stacked against them. Before stepping into the Mordovia Arena, it was pointed out that no Asian side had beaten a South American outfit in World Cup history.

Former Japan coach Philippe Troussier, sensing a crisis of huge magnitude suggested that his old side had “no chance”. After all, they had finished bottom of the group in 2014, crashing out without a single win. Troussier went to the extent of saying: “Even if they play with [Jose] Mourinho or Arsene Wenger, it would be so difficult for Japan to get to the last-16 “

“If Poland was the first match it would be different. But the fact that Colombia is the first match and Senegal the second – for me, on paper at least they have no chance, no chance.”

Troussier’s Colombia reference could have thrown in for good measure at the 2002 co-hosts’ meek surrender in the previous edition, bowing out following a 1-4 mauling.

Alas, it was Colombia’s day to suffer. Carlos Sanchez’s red card and the subsequent penalty had given Japan a shock lead. Despite going in front, Japan didn’t know what to do with their lead. It was their fault that the 2014 quarter-finalists came back in the game.

By half-time, Colombia had created enough opportunities to even take the lead. Yet again, Japan prevailed. On the other side of the break, they were using their numerical advantage to full effect. Yuya Osako did the unthinkable and gave his side a timely lead. This time, Japan held on. They had an answer to everything Radamel Falcao, substitute James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado had to throw at them.

Importantly, they were not gripped by fear as they were in the first half. The Colombians, whose spirited running and slick interplay put them back on level terms, faded out of the game in the second half. Importantly, the Japanese held firm when many would have expected them to capitulate.

Osako’s most important contribution came at the other end of the pitch just minutes after he had scored. James was poised to take the lead but the forward came up with a timely tackle. It was written in the stars for Japan, who are now the unlikely leaders of their group. They could still go out in the group stages. But this is a win they will not forget easily.