Lucky Japan benefit from fair play rule

Arnold Nichols
July 1, 2018

Colombia's 1-0 win over Senegal meant the South American team topped the group ahead of Japan, with those sides facing England or Belgium next.

Japan lost 1-0 to Poland in their final group match of the World Cup, but still managed to progress to the knockout stages as a result of the fair play rule - picking up fewer yellow cards across the group stages than Senegal.

The African side were eliminated after their 1-0 defeat by Colombia despite finishing level with Japan on points, goal difference and goals scored.

Japan will face Group G's victor, either Belgium or England, in the round of 16 on Monday in Rostov-on-Don.

Their advance, though, came only after a risky gamble paid off.

"I decided that I was going to rely on the other match's result", he told reporters. "It was a massive decision to make to get us out of the group stage", he continued. It was not intentional.

The Japanese coach said it had been a "very tough situation" but with qualification in the balance, he asked "what would have happened if we had conceded another goal?"

Nishino even praised his players for following the most negative of orders.

"I'm not too happy about this but I forced my players to do what I said", Nishino added.

Nishino, who took over in April after former coach Vahid Halilhodzic was sacked, stressed he wanted his squad to play a freer, more attacking style in the last 16 against England or Belgium.

But he said he could not really have instructed them to avoid drawing yellow cards. "We must go into the game with the aim of getting all three points and [focusing] our performance", Japan captain, Makoto Hasebe said.

A long Rafal Kurzawa free-kick was met on the volley crisply from close range by Bednarek as Poland recorded their only win of a sorry Russian campaign, despite arriving ranked eighth in the world.

But they comprehensively failed to turn up at the tournament, losing 2-1 to Senegal and 3-0 to Colombia.

While Japan had a few looks at goal, it was Poland that was pushing forward and causing trouble on the counter-attack.

Under the system, a yellow card counts as minus one point, while an indirect red is minus three.

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

But it soon became apparent that Poland had little desire to come out fighting after their two opening defeats which had left them without hope.

The Samurai Blue needed a draw to confirm their place in the knockout stage after they beat Colombia and drew with Senegal in the previous two games, reversing low expectations at the start of the tournament.

Their main man, striker Robert Lewandowski, powered in 16 goals during the qualifiers - but failed to score a single one in Russian Federation, ending his miserable tournament with another spurned chance against Japan.

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