Colombia remains 'united,' backs Sanchez after red card
By MAURICIO SAVARESE
SARANSK, Russia (AP) Colombia's Carlos Sanchez offered no explanation for the early red card that put his team a man down for nearly its entire game against Japan, but his coach and teammates backed him after the 2-1 loss.
Sanchez was called for a handball in the third minute on a shot that looked bound for the Colombian net. It was the second-quickest red card in World Cup history.
He did not speak to print reporters and did not address the incident in comments to TV Globo.
"We lost a match, but now we have to win the next and keep dreaming. We still have the same dream that we arrived here with," Sanchez said. "We stumbled, but the team is fine. We have the same chances of progressing in the World Cup."
Shinji Kagawa put Japan ahead on the penalty kick after Sanchez's red card. Colombia leveled the score in the 39th minute, but Japan took advantage of its numeric superiority to pull ahead in the 73rd minute.
"The positive side of this is you can see the team managed to rise to the occasion and managed a draw even though we lost one of our most important players," Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said. "That's a very good reaction."
Sanchez said his teammates didn't say anything to him after the game, calling the team "united." Striker Falcao Garcia declined to criticize his teammate.
"What matters is that we still have two games that we will play as if they were finals," Garcia said.
Midfielder James Rodriguez also didn't address the subject: "Others can speak better about it," he said.
Colombian fans at the Mordovia Arena were not nearly as polite.
"He spoiled this match for all of us with a stupid decision right after kickoff," said Juanfran Valdes, a 35-year-old supporter from Bogota. "Sanchez is a good player, but this handball today shows he has no World Cup mindset. We should drop him immediately. No excuses for someone that destroys a World Cup opener."
The quickest World Cup red card still belongs to Uruguay's Jose Batista in 1986. He was sent off a minute into a goalless draw against Scotland for a harsh tackle on Gordon Strachan.
Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki didn't downplay the significance of Sanchez's dismissal.
"I was surprised. That changed the match for us," Okazaki said. "That red card made Colombia much more defensive, and we could pass the ball until the opportunities came."
More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup
Updated June 19, 2018