Despite losing their final group game to Poland, the Japan national team has progressed to the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup thanks to the fair play tiebreaker.
Japan coach Akira Nishino made six changes to the side that drew to Senegal 2-2. One of those changes meant that Takashi Usami had his chance to prove himself in the starting eleven. Japan’s first real chances came after 15 minutes, but they passed up the two best opportunities. Robert Lewandowski found no luck down the other end either, as the Japanese defense remained strong. Poland’s first good chance came after 32 minutes, but it was saved well by Eiji Kawashima.
Both teams started the second half much slower than the first. Then in the 61st minute, the game turned on its head. A free kick from Poland’s Rafal Kurzawa found Jan Bednarek, who finished it off from short range. Japan upped the pressure and looked for an equaliser, offering Poland space to counter in the process. Nishino reacted in the 65th minute, when he took off Usami and replaced him with Takashi Inui in an effort to be more defensive. It worked, as Japan went on to lose by only one goal, which was enough to take them through thanks to Senegal losing in the group’s other game against Colombia. However, it was actually Japan’s fewer yellow cards than Senegal that allowed them to progress to the last 16 due to the fair play tiebreaking rule. Japan will play their first knockout game against Belgium on Monday, 2nd July at 20:00 CEST.