Japan advances on yellow cards despite losing at World Cup

Japan and Poland meet at the Volgograd Arena on Thursday

Japan coach Akira Nishino said he had not meant to settle for a 1-0 defeat, calling his reliance on fair play "a very tough and risky situation".

The last round of Group stage matches will see Japan facing off against a Polish side who are yet to earn a single point in this tournament.

Coming into this afternoon's games sitting atop Group H, anything other than a defeat to Poland would have guaranteed Japan their place in the next round.

In the waning moments, Japan trailed 1-0, but because of what was happening in the other Group H game between Colombia and Senegal, a loss by a single goal was fine.

Japan will go on to face the victor of the Belgium v England match in the Round of 16.

The result means Japan reach the knockout phase for the third time in their six World Cups but Nishino had to face some hard questions about his decisions for the match at a sweltering Volgograd Arena.

Japan lacked their usual fluency and Eiji Kawashami's superb sprawling save from Kamil Grosicki was the highlight of a dour first half, with goalline technology confirming the header did not cross the line.

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Nishino made six changes to the starting lineup ahead of the match, saying some of his players were tired.

When Bednarek scored, Japan was facing elimination.

"It was the right decision", said Taiga Izumi, an 18-year-old university student from Tokyo, who watched the match in Volgograd. "We have to pull together and get our hands dirty". Senegal became the first team ever eliminated by a new tiebreaker - number of yellow cards.

Japan lost the game 1-0 but progressed due to Colombia's win over Senegal by the same margin and the Federation Internationale de Football Association fair play rules that worked in favor of the Samurai Blue.

"I don't know if the regulation is cruel or not, but I can't ask my players to go on the pitch in order to avoid yellow cards, " Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said. But if you change the players and the system, you are taking a risk.

Nishino can at least take heart from the fact that his key players will go into the last-16 game in Rostov-on-Don fresh and rested, even if the Belgians can say the same after making nine changes for their win over England.

In their only previous meeting with an Asian team in the World Cup, Poland lost 2-0 against South Korea in 2002.

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