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Japan reach last 16 despite 1-0 defeat by Poland
June 29, 2018, 1:30 am
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Japan reached the last 16 of the World Cup by having a better disciplinary record than Senegal - after losing to Poland in their final Group H game.

The match finished in farcical fashion, with both sides happy to play the ball around at the back for much of the final quarter.

Akira Nishino's side finished with the same number of points, goals scored and goals conceded as Senegal, but were shown only four yellow cards during the group stage to the African side's six.

"We did not go for victory but we just relied on the other match," said Nishino. "That was slightly regrettable but I suppose at that point I didn't have any other plans. "I am really not happy about how we played but we wanted to go through to the round of 16 and we have, and that is the only salvation that I get."

Colombia's 1-0 win over Senegal meant the South American team topped the group ahead of Japan, with those sides facing England and Belgium respectively in the last 16.

Southampton defender Jan Bednarek's well-taken volley following Rafal Kurzawa's free-kick won the match for Poland, who were already eliminated.

Indeed Japan substitute Makoto Hasebe, who came on with eight minutes remaining, made a 'card' gesture to his team-mates to make it clear they were through as it stood.

Nishino said he passed on instructions to the team to take no risks and collect no yellow cards when he sent Hasebe on.

"What if we conceded another goal and it was 2-0?" he said. "We went through. Therefore perhaps it was the right decision."

 

Japan happy to play out time

Japan
This was the possession chart for the last five minutes. Japan had most of the ball, but without wanting to go anywhere near the opposition goal

Japan topped the group going into the final round of games, needing just a point to be assured of a place in the knockout stage for only the third time after 2002, when they were co-hosts, and 2010. They were heading out when Bednarek scored, and Southampton's Maya Yoshida headed just wide on 72 minutes as they pushed for an equaliser. But two minutes later they were given a reprieve by Colombia defender Yerry Mina's thumping header in the group's other game.

As the news filtered through to the Volgograd Arena, both teams were content to sit back.

It was a risky strategy for Japan - a second goal for Poland or a Senegal equaliser would have eliminated them - but it ultimately paid off.

'Farcical and embarrassing'

Japan
This was Japan's touchmap after hearing Colombia had scored against Senegal (76 minutes onwards)

With their game finishing a couple of minutes before Colombia's victory was confirmed, the Japan players initially waited anxiously around the pitch, before celebrating wildly in front of their supporters.

But there was widespread criticism for the manner in which they had reached the last 16.

"It was a farce, an absolute farce," said BBC co-commentator Mark Lawrenson. "There has to be a better way of settling the table in the World Cup than bookings."

Former Everton midfielder Leon Osman said on BBC Two: "That is embarrassing - the way the two teams went about the final 10 minutes is everything we do not want to see in a World Cup. It turned into a farce."

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill added: "It takes you back to World Cups in 1982 and 1986, when we saw games like that. It is mind-boggling for me as a coach to leave your whole destiny in the hands of another game, and do it for so long.

"I had developed a bit of a soft spot for Japan, but I hope they get battered in the next round."

Poland go out on high

Group H
How Group H ended

By losing their opening two group games, Poland became the first European side to exit the tournament, and they have now exited at the first hurdle in three successive appearances. They rarely threatened in their first two matches, with star striker Robert Lewandowski - who scored 16 goals in qualifying - largely isolated. The Bayern Munich man did have his best chance to score against Japan - but scooped a shot over from 10 yards out.

Winger Kamil Grosicki forced Eiji Kawashima into a smart save with a header, and Tomoaki Mikono almost diverted a cross into his own net late on.

But Bednarek's goal was enough to give the Poles victory, though it was not enough to lift them off the bottom of the group.

Set-piece specialists - the stats

  • Poland beat Japan for the first time, after losing 5-0 in February 1996 and 2-0 in March 2002.
  • Japan have failed to score in five of their past six World Cup games against European opponents (W1 D2 L3) - their only goals coming in a 3-1 victory over Denmark in 2010.
  • Poland have won each of their 14 games in which they have scored first in World Cup finals.
  • Japan have conceded in four successive World Cup games for the first time since their first four games across 1998 and 2002.
  • Poland have finished bottom of the group in a World Cup for the first time since 2002.
  • They have kept a clean sheet at the World Cup for the first time since winning 1-0 against Portugal in 1986.
  • The Poles won their first ever World Cup game against an Asian opponent after losing 2-0 in the group stages against South Korea in 2002.
  • Bednarek's goal for Poland was their fifth consecutive goal from a set-piece situation in the World Cup.
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