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Japan through on fair play after footballing truce in Volgograd

MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- Japan lost their final Group H game 1-0 to Poland in Volgograd on Thursday but qualified for the last 16 of the World Cup on fair play rules due to Senegal’s 1-0 defeat to Colombia.

It is ironic that Japan should qualify on fair play, because fair play is the last thing the side which have won hearts here in Russia showed in a final 10 minutes when both sides accepted the result and renounced all attempts to attack their rivals, with Poland happy to see their first win in the final phase and Japan trusting Colombia would hold on for a win which puts them into the knockout phase for the second time in eight years.

Despite the importance of the game Japan coach Akira Nishino made six changes to his starting 11 after repeating the same team for the first two matches, while Lukasz Fabianski and Kamil Grosicki were in the Polish side.

Grosicki’s pace almost created a chance for Robert Lewandowski in the 5th minute, but the striker’s touch let him down in the Japan penalty area.

Japan took time to get into the game, but Shinji Okazaki headed wide in the 12th minute, Yoshinori Muto produced a smart save from Fabianski a minute later and Maya Yoshida also worked the keeper from the edge of the area.

Japan were leaving spaces in midfield and were almost punished in the 32nd minute when Grosicki’s header drew a good save from Eiji Kawashima in the Japan goal, although Japan responded quickly as Takashi Usami drew another stop from Fabianski.

There was a setback for the Japanese at the start of the second half when Okazaki had to be replaced by Yuya Osako after less than two minutes with what looked like a muscle problem, but Japan retained their attacking 4-4-2 formation with both wide midfielders pushing forward, almost allowing Grosicki and Lewandowski to combine in the 54th minute.

The game again settled into a pattern with Japan looking to attack, but never quite in control and were punished just before the hour when Jan Bednarek side-footed home a free kick from close range, getting the better of his Southampton teammate Yoshida in the process.

With Japan now needing a goal to qualify for the next round Takashi Inui replaced Usami, but they should have fallen 2 behind when Lewandowski fired another Grosicki ball over in the 74th minute and the Hull City winger almost forced Tomashi Makino to concede an own goal with another dangerous cross.

News of Colombia’s goal against Senegal clearly filtered through and with the result in the other Group H game meaning Japan would qualify through having fewer yellow cards than their rivals both sides appeared to draw a footballing truce for what was frankly an embarrassing last 10 minutes in which neither tried to score.

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EARLIER REPORTS:

Japan through on Fair Play but fair play clearly missing in Volgograd

MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- Poland beat Japan by 1-0 in their World Cup Group H game in the Volgograd Arena on Thursday afternoon thanks to a 59th minute goal from defender Jan Bednarek, although the result means Japan qualify for the last 16 of the competition ahead of Senegal on fair play.

Bednarek scored from close range following a free kick in what had been an even game with both sides looking to attack, but Japan leaving Poland too many spaces in midfield and down the wings.

In the closing minutes of the match, news of Colombia’s goal against Senegal meant the result satisfied both sides and the last 10 minutes saw both sides pass the ball between themselves to the evident frustration of the fans in the ground. It may have been pragmatic, but it was panful to watch and to say they qualified because of ‘fair play’ is exactly the opposite of what happened.

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Japan coach defends ‘football truce’ as his side qualify for last 16 in Russia

VOLGOGRAD Russia (Xinhua) -- Japan coach Akira Nishino admitted he had instructed his players to accept a 1-0 defeat to Poland in the closing minutes of their final Group H match in Volgograd on Thursday.

Although Japan lost to a 59th minute goal scored by Jan Bednarek and were ‘out’ of the tournament for around 16 minutes, news of Yerry Mina’s 74th minute goal for Colombia against Senegal which saw Japan into the last 16 on fair play rules clearly filtered through and the closing minutes saw both sides happy to pass the ball among themselves with no real efforts to win possession or to launch any attacks.

“It was a tough decision to make as there was always a chance that Senegal would score, but I chose for us to stay put and to keep the status quo and make sure nothing happened on our pitch. I decided I’d rely on the result of the other game,” said Nishino in his post-game press conference.

“I’m not too happy about this, but I told my players to do what I said,” explained Nishino, adding that “these things happen in a World Cup. This kind of football does exist and it’s the first time I have felt this way. It was a massive decision to make to get us out of the group stage,” he continued.

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?”

“My message on the pitch was to ‘stay put’ and the players listened to me, they were going to keep things as they were.

“It was slightly regrettable, but at that points I didn’t have any other plans,” he admitted, before insisting Japan had “earned” the place in the next round.

           

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